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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5 ideas about a movie: Goodbye Christopher Robin

Movie reviews

Hello!

One of the early potential awards contenders has premiered, thus, let’s evaluate its chances. This is the review of Goodbye Christopher Robin.

IMDb summary: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.

  1. Goodbye Christopher Robin was written by a novelist and a British TV/movie writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce and a TV producer Simon Vaughan and directed by Simon Curtis (who previously directed My Week With Marilyn – one of my favorite films about the movie business). Curtis’s directing was very competent. He paced the movie neatly and made it feel like an old-school classical drama. The way he shifted the focus from one character to the next (from the father to the son) in the two halves of the movie was also an interesting choice.
  2. The script tackled a lot of topics and concept that all made up the incredible real-life story behind Winnie-the-Pooh. To being with, although, ultimately, this narrative was one of hope and happiness, it was framed by a feeling of dread and loss: the filmed opened with a scene that made the viewer believe that the real Christopher Robin had died at war, thus, the following long flashback (the rest of the film) felt like it was destined to end badly. However, the opening scene turned out to be bait-and-switch and the picture indeed had sort of happy ending – as happy as you can get in the real world.
  3. Additionally, Goodbye Christopher Robin had a lot to say about the middle/upper-class family relationships in the 20th century (and also now). First, the role of the nanny as ‘the true parent’ was portrayed explicitly. Also, an engaging message about motherhood was stated: how giving birth does not equal motherhood – one has to earn the right to call oneself a mother. The film also did a good job of portraying Milne’s PTSD and his ideas about/against the war(s).
  4. The film also examined the issues of creativity and commerce. The sequence of the writing of the books was really pleasant and sweet: it was also nice to notice the real-life details that inspired the plot-points in the books. The movie also did a good job of portraying the jealousy and the damage that comes with fame at a young age. Billy’s childhood was similar to that of contemporary children on reality TV (Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, etc.). Did the father appropriate his child’s childhood for profit? Was he right to do so in order to bring happiness to the masses? Is the happiness of many more worthy than the happiness of one? Robin’s experiences as a child and his desire for anonymity in the army as an adult sure made for a heartbreaking example cause and effect.
  5. Fox Searchlight has definitely assembled a stellar cast for this film, which delivered impeccable performances. Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina, The Revenant, Star Wars, American Made, Mother!, Brooklyn, Unbroken) shined as the frustrated artist and the difficult father. Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, Tarzan) was equal amounts likable and despicable as Daphne. Kelly Macdonald (T2: Trainspotting) was amazing as the voice of reason and the source of heart (the nanny). However, all three of them seemed like they barely aged over the 3 decades – better make-up or some CGI would have been beneficial. Christopher Robin was played by two actors: the young Will Tilston, who looked like a real-life version of his character’s book counterpart (just brilliant casting), while Alex Lawther handled the more challenging grown-up scenes and displayed his acting talent that some of us have already had a glimpse of on Black Mirror (the ‘Shut Up and Dance’ episode).

In short, Goodbye Christopher Robin was well-made biographical drama, whose subject-matter was complex, layer, and fascinating. I’ll never look at Winnie-the-Pooh the same (a.k.a. as optimistically)….and I have its face of my duvet cover (waking up wrapped in depression?).

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Goodbye Christopher Robin trailer 

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