Movie review: Battle of the Sexes

Movie reviews

Good evening,

My BFI London Film Festival series of reviews (it opened with Breathe) continues with Battle of the Sexes – another potential awards contender for the year!

IMDb summary: The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

As a side note, before the actual review begins, I just wanted to tell you about a different tennis movie that already came out this year and left me pleasantly surprised. It’s Borg vs. McEnroe and I suggest you check it out! Onto Battle of the Sexes!

Writing

Battle of the Sexes was written by Simon Beaufoy (who is known for writing such movies as Slumdog Millionaire127 HoursSalmon Fishing in the YemenThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Everest) and the film’s script was inspired/based on real events.

Battle of the Sexes tackled/portrayed two big concepts – the LGBTQ+ identity and the feminism/women’s rights. Sadly, both of these thematical spheres are still highly controversial and not discussed enough (or if they are debated, then only really unproductively, with zero chances of reaching a consensus between the opposing sides). Some might say that both of these issues are more topical in today’s socio-political climate than they were in the 1970s.

The movie approached these topics head-on (feminism way more than the LGBTQ+ side) and had a strong overall message. Personally, I loved it, but then again, I am a woman, a feminist, and a liberal. The general audiences, full of individuals of different genders/ideologies/beliefs, might turn on this movie because of its strong message of social justice. There was one short scene in the movie, where Emma Stone’s character confronted a journalist and clearly declared that she was not fighting to be seen as better, she just wanted to be treated equally. I wanted that idea – one of equality – to be more overtly stated in the movie because I worry that a takeaway for some audience members might be the fact that women want to be on top, rather than by side with the other genders. It is a bummer that, for some, being pro-female ultimately translates into an anti-male stance and I would hate if the cinema-goers interpreted Battle of the Sexes in such a way.

Now, let’s discuss some aspects of the writing in more detail. I thought that the presentation of Steve Carell’s character was captivating: his personal background and problems very clearly affected his actions of the tennis court. The way his gambling addiction and his work – tennis – were combined was super interesting too. It was also fascinating to see how he embellished his toxic masculinity for the public eye. The whole commentary on tennis as an activity in the middle of the spectacle v sports dichotomy was brilliant. In addition, the conflicting position of Carell’s character’s wife, played by Elisabeth Shue, was just amazing to watch: she rooted for her husband because he was her love but she also seemed to be cheering for Billie Jean and her cause.

Lastly, Battle of the Sexes also toyed with the concept of the gentlemanliness/sexism line (where one ends and the other begins). It also showcased sport as the factor that triumphed any relationship in the character’s life. The picture also did a very good job of combining feminity with feminism (which are often presented as polar opposites, which they aren’t). Oh, and the jokes were good too!

Directing

Battle of the Sexes was directed by a duo of filmmakers – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – who are responsible for directing one of my all-time favorite pictures Little Miss Sunshine. They did a great job with this film and its nuances and layers. Battle of the Sexes was a great biographical drama, a good sports drama, and an amazing romantic drama. The extreme close-ups of the characters made the movie seem intimate, real, and raw. The 1970s setting was well-realized, from the retro logos to the colorful vintage tracksuits. The sequences of the actual tennis play were good too, the final one was especially intense. The body doubles were hardly noticeable, so props to the directors, the cinematographer, and the camera crew for cleverly shooting around them.

Acting

Emma Stone (Magic in the MoonlightIrrational Man) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Cafe Society) played the two lead roles. Both of these actors had quite similar careers – they started in comedy and then tried to transition to more serious roles, with varying levels of success. For Stone, this performance is her follow-up to the Oscar win for La La Land and a strong contender for at least a nomination this year. For Carrel, the involvement in Battle of the Sexes might bring him another nomination too. Emma was extremely lovable in the role and exuded both strength and relatable vulnerability. Steve was really good too – he looked exactly like the real person and also made the guy into a somewhat likable human being, even if he was sprouting nonsense most of the time.

The supporting cast was also really good. I loved Sarah Silverman as the bossy manager, she was perfectly cast. Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals) was brilliant as Billie Jean’s lover, while Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) brought a lot of heart to his role of Billie’s husband. Finally, I loved to hate Bill Pullman (ID: Resurgence) in his role and adored Elisabeth Shue in hers!

In short, Battle of the Sexes was a great drama about equality, freedom, and fighting. Undoubtfully, it was well executed, but whether you will agree with its message, will entirely depend on who you are as a person.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Battle of the Sexes trailer

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Movie review: Breathe

Movie reviews

Hello!

Yesterday, I had a chance to attend a preview screening of Breathe as part of the BFI London Film Festival. Thus, my review of the film is coming out early. Hope you enjoy it!

IMDb summary: The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease.

Writing

The novelist and awards’ nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (who wrote or co-wrote such movies as Elizabeth: The Golden AgeLes MisérablesMandela: Long Walk to FreedomUnbroken, and Everestpenned the script for Breathe and did a great job. The film’s story had to cover quite a wide time frame, so the movie mostly focused on the major events in the lead duos life and had quite a few time jumps. The opening sequence of Robin and Diana meeting and falling in love was very quick: with lesser actors in these roles, the romance would have seemed rushed, but, in the case of Breathe, I thought that the set-up was written and later realized on film effectively enough. That sequence also established the lifestyle that Robin and Diane led: adventurous, exciting, and active. It also neatly set-up their caste (middle/upper) and their friend group – both factors came into play in the plot a bit later.

Thematically, Breathe touched upon a variety of concepts, like the most unversal one of them all – love, but also sacrifice, survival, and bravery. It was also interesting to see how the family’s social class informed Robin’s survival (amongst other things). For one, his better than a lot of people’s financial situation allowed him to be relocated to a more convenient house and to have the funds for the medical machinery (the historical medicine was very well-realized in the picture). However, it was also really heartwarming and uplifting to see Robin taking his personal goal (to survive) and expanding it into a communal goal for the betterment of the whole community of the disabled.

Two other related concepts in Breathe were friendship and humour. Robin’s and Diana’s friends helped them a lot, both physically and emotionally. It was also just remarkable to see that, even though Robin had a condition that was a hinder to his life, that did not change the way his friends communicated with him: they were still joking around, partying, drinking. It was a different life, not a ‘normal’ one (whatever that means), but it was as valid as the life of any individual. Robin, Diana, their son, and their friends took the difficulties and made life into an adventure, with moments of both weakness and triumph. And Breathe not only told this story, but convinced its viewers of its remarkability and had a lovely message that life is always worth living, no matter the circumstances.

While the film generally was quite emotional (alongside being funny – tears would be replaced by a smile and vice versa), its ending was the peek emotional time. The jokes kind diminished it the last 15 minutes of Breathe and were replaced with a sense of sophistication. The last moments of romance were so pure and simple, which resulted in the line that defined this film – ‘My Love, My Life’. Lastly, the choice to die on one’s own terms was presented as a dignified and powerful action (I can hear all those against euthanasia scoffing while reading this sentence). It was A middle finger to faith and determinism rather than life itself.

Directing 

Breathe was directed by the king of motion capture Andy Serkis. This was his directorial debut and not a film one would expect him to direct, knowing his achievements with the CGI and motion capture technology (Serkis has already directed a film that is more in line with what he usually does: he has his own version of Jungle Book, but it keeps being pushed back in the release schedule so as to escape from Disney’s The Jungle Book’s shadow). I though that he did an incredible job with Breathe. The film was shot beautifully and the jumping around in time was handled as good as it could have been. I wish, however, that he would have made the film longer. Some of the scenes, especially at the beginning, felt like they were cut off too quickly, while the snapshot focus on the major events of the characters’ lives had a sense of urgency. Basically, I wanted Breathe to be allowed to breathe more (no pun intended or was it?). Having said that, the movie did slow down a bit as it was progressing: the shots were allowed to linger longer and the camera did not cut away as quickly.

Acting

Breathe has assembled a brilliant cast and it got especially lucky with its two leads, who had realistic and very sweet chemistry.

Andrew Garfield has become a new awards front runner, with last year’s Hacksaw Ridge and Silence (who knew that being replaced as Spider-Man will be the best thing that has happened to his career?). I’m positive that he will get a nomination this year, for that monologue at the conference alone. Maybe he even be rewarded to his technical difficulties of acting as a disabled person, similarly how Eddie Redmayne won for his transformative role of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

Clare Foy has made the jump from the small screen to the silver one very successfully. Although, I don’t know if Netflix’s The Crown can really be seen as a TV show, knowing its production quality, budget, and amazing storytelling. I’d love if she got a few nominations for her performance too, I could definitely spot a few key scenes which can certainly be included in her awards’ reel.

The supporting cast of the film was good too. Tom Hollander (Tulip Fever, The Promise), in twin roles, was the most obvious comedic relief. Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville starred as the inventor Teddy Hall, whose talents were crucial to the survival of Robin and I wish we would have seen more of him. Dean-Charles Chapman (GOT’s Tommen) and Ed Speelers (another Downton Abbey alumni) had small roles as well.

In short, Breathe was a great film that told an extraordinary, touching, and humorous real-life story, which was brought to life by a wonderful group of actors and a competent first-time director. Definitely a picture worth to be screened at the Opening Night Gala of the BFI London Film Festival

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Breathe trailer

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