Emma Stone and Steve Carrell are Victorious in 'Battle of the Sexes'
Battle of the Sexes is the 3rd film from directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. The film follows the true story of the legendary tennis match between Bobby Riggs, played by Steve Carrell, and Billie Jean King, played by Emma Stone. The film depicts the mistreatment of women in the game of tennis, with King pushing for equal pay between male and female tournaments while facing opposition from the male-dominated tennis leagues. And the film is banking off the sad truth of this fight continuing today in the workplace, but despite the films poignant message, it is, however, bogged down by its inability to break from genre conventions.
Now don’t let my thesis statement fool you, this is a solid film with many positives. And some positives to start off: Emma Stone and Steve Carrell. Without the strong performances from these two leads, this film simply doesn’t work. And despite sharing only a handful of scenes, their chemistry from Crazy, Stupid, Love carries. Steve Carrell brings a lot of humanity to the role of the outlandish Bobby Riggs, who otherwise would just be a ridiculous, showboating sexist but instead is a man trying to reconnect with his family while also reclaim his fame.
Emma Stone’s King, on the other hand, is strong and defiant in one scene and venerable and touching in another. And while for a mediocre performer, these sudden changes could be seen as sudden and off-putting, in the hands of Stone, the character becomes more-enigmatic and three-dimensional. Other positives come in the form of a surprisingly stand-out performance from Sarah Silverman as King’s manager. Not to say it’s surprising Sarah Silverman to give a great performance, but more that I didn’t expect her to steal scenes from Emma Stone.
But to get past the performances, the cinematography and editing is relatively seamless with no cuts or shots that appear too flashy. The shots were well composed though with one shot of Emma Stone sitting in the locker room after a big match. The way the camera pushes her to the outskirts of the frame, isolating her, exemplifies how the film—for the most part—relies on show don’t tell.
Now here is the part of the review where we get to the negatives. Although, in totality, the pacing of the film is decent, the first act really drags. It isn’t really till the Battle of the Sexes match is announced that the film really picks up. And as I said prior, the film tries to be a relatively generic sports movie that breaks convention through its feminist perspective, but that is not enough to make the film stand out. The ending, for example, feels straight out of Casablanca.
Overall, I give Battle of the Sexes three out of five stars. It is another worthy addition to catalogue of the Dayton and Faris films due to its ridiculous, yet heartwarming performance from Carrell and rebellious yet venerable performance by Stone. The film deserves your time; I just wished it demanded it.