Saturday, October 07, 2017

BATTLE OF THE SEXES - Day 4 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

Co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) have created an immensely likeable and uplifting movie in BATTLE OF THE SEXES. It's the story of an infamous exhibition tennis match played in the mid-70s between one of the all time greats of women's tennis - Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and an ageing former Grand Slam winner Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).  Both are absolutely fascinating characters.  Riggs is a paunchy fifty year old on a second marriage to a rich woman (Elisabeth Shue).  He has a gambling habit and a love of the limelight, and while earning a pittance on the seniors tour become irked that the women are demanding more money.  Those women are led by Billie Jean King - who in a no-nonsense straightforward way asks why, if the women sell as many tickets as the men, they don't get paid as much? What's more, King is willing to back herself - setting up a rival women's tour with tennis promoter Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman). In doing so, she goes head to head with the misogynistic head of the USLTA Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman). The set up of the film is thus an exhibition match between Riggs and King where she has to win to rescue the reputation of women's tennis and indeed make a point about equality to the millions of people watching on TV.  But as she rightly points out, the real point to be made is against Kramer and his ilk rather than the buffoon-like Riggs. 

Behind the scenes we also have intense emotional battles. As the world now knows, King, though married to the deeply supportive and remarkably accommodating Larry, is equally gay. In the course of the film she begins a passionate affair with the tour hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), something that Larry tacitly condones, but that is hidden from the press and King's parents.  The more fascinating reaction is that of King's rival Margaret Court, who is a wife, mother and apparent homophobe. Having done a quick bit of internet research about her, I can't help but think that it let Court off very lightly.  Arguably the more fascinating relationship, because it's less well-known, is that of Riggs and his wife.  She is evidently a strong woman, and analyses their relationship very clearly.  She loves his humour and large personality, but hates his gambling and general unreliability.  Although one of the smaller roles in the film, Elisabeth Shue imbues it with such humanity and compassion that it really was the stand out part of the film.  

As for the rest, well it's all very well done. And Stone absolutely gets some of the physical mannerisms of King and Carell is almost spookily similar to the real-life Riggs. Is the direction pioneering or meaningfully interesting? No not really. But that's what this film is.  To quote Meester Phil, this is the two hour and one minute version of the one minute forty second trailer. This is a movie that really just tells a good story well - it doesn't over-complicate it, and it's a good time. 

BATTLE OF THE SEXES has a running time of 121 minutes and is rated PG-13.  BATTLE OF THE SEXES played London and Toronto 2017 and is already on release in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It opens in Brazil on October 19th, in Hong Kong on November 2nd, in Spain on November 10th, in Germany on November 16th, in France, the Netherlands, Singapore and the UK on November 24th, in Argentina on November 30th, in Colombia on December 7th and in Poland on December 8th.

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