21 September 2017

Battle of the Sexes

A competent film from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine" that tried to juggle too much including gender politics, LGBTQ rights, themes of love vs ambition and of freedom to love with a love story and a love triangle, and unfortunately, in the end, underserved all of them to the point that the actual titular tennis match was the most exciting moment of the whole 121 minutes. In a similar vein, the supporting actors, including the  scene-stealing Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming, and surprisingly nuanced Austin Stowell and Elisabeth Shue, were more interesting to watch than the leads: a miscast, albeit competent, Emma Stone (who had no chemistry with Andrea Riseborough) and a funny, but lightweight Steve Carrell. 

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris delivered a by-the-numbers story but may have bitten more than they could chew such that although the narrative moved forward, it moved erratically and without focus. Furthermore, with such a well known historical moment where the outcome was popular knowledge, the directors failed to capitalise on that foreknowledge and build up the drama to that moment. And none of the themes and storylines were developed beyond the superficial which was such a shame for such an important story about such an important moment. They, and writer Simon Beaufoy, should have focused on gender equality or LGBTQ rights and centered the lead up to and aftermath on the Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs match instead. 

Stone followed up her Oscar winning role in "La La Land" with another Oscar-baiting performance, albeit in a miscast role, that will keep her in the conversation but unlikely to garner her any awards. She never really lost herself in the role both physically - not looking like BJK or even a tennis player at all - and mentally (those eyes practically screamed "Look at me! I'm Emma Stone!"). 

Carrell was more appropriately cast although it was also unlikely he will repeat his "Foxcatcher" success. He brought the laughs and towards the end, ably brought a certain degree of compassion for his character. 

Riseborough and Stone had zero chemistry, and without that electricity it was so hard to sell the love story, the supposed identity conflict and the drama. Similarly, Stone did not spark with Stowell although from Stowell's end it was apparent that his Larry King cared for Billie Jean, but not vice versa. 

As aforesaid, Silverman might be the film's best chance for an acting nomination. Cumming, though delightful, was more for comedic relief. Stowell was a pleasant surprise and the ex-"Bridge of Spies" POW remained an actor worth keeping an eye out for. 

Cinematography and music were by Linus Sandgren and Nicholas Britell and both were decent with the former ably recreating the 70s look. Although Costume Designer Mary Zophres will be the main contender for a creative nomination. 

In the end, the film was decent but it told a story that most will already know without adding anything new; and if you never knew about the historic Battle of the Sexes then a documentary would have been more illuminating. 

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