A Friendly Battle Of The Sexes
Review by Aaron Haughton
Battle of the Sexes is the latest film from directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who gained critical acclaim with their delightful indie comedy debut, Little Miss Sunshine. Their latest effort is their most ambitious work to date and captures the 70s era with flawless ease. Perhaps, though, its most stunning feature is the realization that the misogynist nature rampant during that era is still booming just as much now as it was in '73.
The story centers on women's World #1 tennis player Billie Jean King (played by Emma Stone) and ex-men's-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (played by Steve Carell) leading up to their infamous 1973 tennis match, an event that was viewed by an estimated 90 million people around the world. As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicks into high gear, off-court each is fighting a more personal and complex battle; King with women's equality and coming to terms with her own sexuality, and Riggs with his gambling tendencies and the effect they have on his marriage.
The film suffers from a bit from pacing issues, struggling to find its footing at times, but manages to be nothing short of entertaining with Carell absolutely shining in the forefront. It's a little slow to get moving and about 20 minutes too long, but when it finds its stride it proves to be quite captivating. The story of the Battle of the Sexes showdown is an interesting one, but the film tries to cram everything into its 2 hour runtime, sometimes feeling a bit forced or drawn out.
Both protagonists are flawed individuals; one cheats on her husband with another woman, and the other is addicted to gambling to the point of wrecking his marriage. However, Dayton and Faris manage to find humanity in both characters, and Stone and Carell make them even more relatable. The film never really paints one as the villain, which was an aspect I really enjoyed, even though there is a clear victor to the tennis match.
The film finds a nice balance between the comedic misogyny and its focus on gender equality; however, it focuses a little too much on King's relationship with her hairdresser Marilyn Barnett. These scenes seem a little too drawn out and serious, causing the film to feel a little unbalanced when cutting to Carell, whose sections seem to eclipse the portion with the girls. The Carell to Stone ratio was a little off, and it becomes kinda clear that they're using Carell's comedic schtick to carry the often times too heavy and weighted King/Barnett relationship bits. Pacing and tone aside, when looking at footage and pictures from the actual events, it becomes very shocking just how much Stone and Carell embody their characters. Stone has the lumbering gait and demeanor of King, and Carell brings the house down as the fast talking hustler.
The historical accuracies are astounding and really place you into the era. Most of this 70s feel is courtesy of director of photography Linus Sandgren, who also shot American Hustle. The film was shot on 35 mm, which helps give it that grainy 70s vibe, but the lighting also supports that as well, giving it that nice yellowish glow. Dayton and Faris' direction also feels very era with it's stationary camera utilizing pans, zooms, and deep focus, and their use of architecture reinforces this feeling even more. However, at some crucial emotional moments, they go the shaky cam route and nearly ruin the pathos of the performances.
All in all, it's a very enjoyable, gorgeously captured film with a message as relevant now as it was then. It doesn't quite prove to be as gut busting as Little Miss Sunshine, but it's not without its own charm either. It's still a great centerpiece for the larger discussion of today's equality, and the experience is best suited for the large crowd setting. I'd recommend giving it a day in court, especially if you're an avid fan of Steve Carell.
Rating: 4 nude chauvinist jokesters outta 5.
What do you think? Are you interested in seeing the film? Does the story echo the gender equality struggles we're fighting today? Did you feel like you were in the 70s for 2 hours? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!