Friday, April 19, 2019

Battle of the Sexes (2017 film)

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by Simon Beaufoy, Battle of the Sexes is about the legendary 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King that was televised and held at the Houston Astrodome. The film is a dramatic account of the events where the legendary Riggs challenges King, who was then the top champion in tennis, as a publicity stunt as a way to get women more respect in the world of sports with Steve Carell playing Riggs and Emma Stone as King. Also starring Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Bill Pullman, Natalie Morales, and Sarah Silverman. Battle of the Sexes is a compelling yet exhilarating film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

The film is a dramatic re-telling of the 1973 Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King from the events prior to the match as well as its set-up and outcome. It’s a film with a simple premise where King is the top tennis player of her time but feels that women aren’t being treated fairly in comparison to the men as she feels like women deserve equal pay or more money. Simon’s Beaufoy’s script opens with King’s sudden rise to fame in 1970 as a top tennis player but is upset that an upcoming tennis tour will have her and several other women players be paid much less than the men. This forces King and former tennis player/magazine publisher Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) to create their own tournament with eight other players as they would gain a sponsor in Virginia Slim cigarettes though they would struggle early on to draw an audience despite being banned by legendary tennis player/promoter Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) from the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association.

The first act is about King and her attempt to get equal pay for herself and other players as well as establish what Riggs was doing at the time as a man who loves to gamble much to the dismay of his wife Priscilla Whelan (Elisabeth Shue) who would kick him out of their home. Riggs who plays tennis to win cars decides to challenge the women as a publicity stunt where he would immediately challenge King who would turn him down as Riggs would challenge Australian tennis champion Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) and defeat her prompting King to accept Riggs’ challenge. Beaufoy’s script also touch upon King’s affair with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) despite the fact that King is married to a man named Larry (Austin Stowell) as it is a key part of the second act that would also play into King’s determination to beat Riggs unaware that he’s really playing a character for show.

The direction of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris does have its elements of style in recreating the world of the early 1970s as it is shot mainly in Los Angeles where much of the film is set. There are some wide shots in establishing the locations as well as in the film’s climatic tennis match set at the Houston Astrodome. Yet, much of Dayton and Faris’ direction is more on the characters and their situations as well as their need to win. Particularly in the usage of close-ups and medium shots that play into the drama and some of the humor where the latter relates mainly to Riggs and his life including the things he would do in playing tennis for money. The direction would show that for all Riggs’ faults as a man, the persona as this chauvinist was really for show as he was someone that was devoted to his family including his wife. Dayton and Faris’ direction also showcase the growing air of sexism towards women’s tennis not just from men but also women as Margaret Court is more of a traditionalist who would glance at King’s relationship with Barnett with disapproval.

The direction also play into this tension between King and tennis organizations who don’t want to succeed nor want any kind of change in the world of tennis unaware that women are paying to see women play tennis. The climatic match at the Astrodome is shown in a massive scope to play up into how large the event is as well as this air of showmanship before the match is to commence. There is this air of excitement but also dramatic tension as the stakes are high while its aftermath show a sense of relief but also realization that things are to change. Overall, Dayton and Faris create an exhilarating yet engaging film about the real-life tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and the events preceding this landmark tennis match.

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of colors for some of the exterior scenes as well as using grainy film stock to recreate the look of 1970s television coverage is a highlight of the film. Editor Pamela Martin does excellent work with the editing as it has bits of montages as well as some stylish moments that play into the energy of the tennis matches. Production designer Judy Becker, with set decorator Matthew Flood Ferguson and art director Alexander Wei, does amazing work with the look of the hotel/motel rooms the women players stayed in as well as the home of Riggs along with the look of the tennis court inside the Astrodome. Costume designer Mary Zophres does fantastic work with the design of the clothes of the 1970s including some of the uniforms the women tennis players chose to wear as well as some of the costumes that Riggs wear for his publicity tour.

Hair stylist Frioa S. Aradottir and makeup artist Torsten White do terrific work with the different hairstyles and looks of King and Riggs during that time as well as how they would evolve in those few years. Special effects supervisor Sam Dean and visual effects supervisor Cliff Welsh do superb work with the visual effects in some set dressing for the period as well as what footage looked like on TV. Sound designer Ai-Ling Lee does wonderful work with the sound in its creation of sound effects as well as how rackets sounded like back then and the massive layers of sounds for the film’s climatic game. The film’s music by Nicolas Britell is incredible for its rich and sumptuous music score with its lush piano and string arrangements that help play into the drama and sense of excitement into the climatic tennis match while music supervisor Steven Baker provides a soundtrack that played into the times as it includes music from Elton John, Bobbie Gentry, Ray Wills, Tommy James and the Shondells, Apollo 100, Norma Jenkins, George Harrison, and Hugh Masekala along with contemporary pieces from the Pretenders and Sara Bareilles.

The casting by Justine Arteta and Kim Davis-Wagner is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from John C. McGinley as a friend of Riggs, Matt Malloy as Riggs’ therapist, Eric Christian Olsen as Riggs’ friend/trainer Lornie Kuhle, Fred Armisen as Riggs’ nutritionist Rheo Blair, Lewis Pullman as Riggs’ eldest son Larry, and James MacKay as Court’s husband Barry. In the roles of the members of the Original 9 players, Martha MacIsaac, Mickey Sumner, Bridey Elliott, Lauren Kline, Ashley Weinhold, Fidan Manashirova, and Kaitlyn Christian play in their respective roles as the tennis players Jane “Peaches” Bartkowicz, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, Nancy Richey, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Tegart Dalton, and Kerry Melville Reid while Christian also plays the tennis double of King with Vince Spadea as the tennis double of Riggs. Natalie Morales is terrific as an Original 9 tennis player in Rosie Casals as someone who is outspoken as well as be the one to provide commentary for the game.

Jessica McNamee is wonderful as Australian tennis champion Margaret Court as a tennis player who joins the women’s tour as she is someone that is conservative and would accept Riggs’ challenge. Austin Stowell is superb as King’s husband Larry as a man who is supportive of her while he is aware that she has feelings for someone else yet keeps to himself. Elisabeth Shue is fantastic as Riggs’ wife Priscilla as a wealthy woman who isn’t fond of her husband’s gambling as well as his pursuit to challenge women players only to realize what he’s really trying to do. Alan Cumming is excellent as costumer Cuthbert “Ted” Tinling as an openly-gay designer who supports the women in making clothes for them but also help King out in her relationship with Barnett. Bill Pullman is brilliant as famed tennis legend/organization leader Jack Kramer who doesn’t believe that the women would draw as he gains the ire of King for his sexist comments.

Sarah Silverman is amazing as legendary tennis player/publisher Gladys Heldman as a woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone where Silverman provides some humor but also some grit into someone who is championing this new generation of players. Andrea Riseborough is incredible as Marilyn Barnett as a hairdresser who falls for King as she accompanies her on the tour while becomes concerned whether or not she is a distraction to King. Finally, there’s the duo of Emma Stone and Steve Carell in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Stone brings a charm but also a seriousness as King as someone that is striving to be the best but is also deals with her sexuality as it relates to her relationship with Barnett which she wants to keep as a secret as homosexuality was still considered taboo. Carell brings this energy and wit as Riggs as someone who loves to gamble and have fun while knowing a good financial opportunity when he sees it while playing up this persona as a male chauvinist to help sell tickets. Stone and Carell have this chemistry in the way they deal with each other but also know there is an air of respect between the two tennis legends.

Battle of the Sexes is a marvelous film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris that feature great performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell. Along with its ensemble cast, Simon Beaufoy’s engaging script, gorgeous cinematography, and Nicolas Britell’s rich score. It’s a film that manages to be exciting as a sports film but also provide some deep insights into the world of tennis during the 1970s and how one woman wanted to make things fair by playing against one of the sports’ great champions. In the end, Battle of the Sexes is a remarkable film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris Films: Little Miss Sunshine - Ruby Sparks

© thevoid99 2019


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I wasn't blown away by this, but it was a decent enough DVD watch. Like you said, the actors were all very good.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-It was better than I thought it would be though I knew about the real story having heard and seen documentaries about it. Stone and Carell were on their A-game. Carell in particular who definitely brought some laughs but was also a really good person. Riggs was really playing a character yet he was a fan of women's tennis and wanted to give it some exposure so he did play a part in making sure they got paid fairly.