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Review: Battle of the Sexes (TIFF)

Battle of the Sexes (TIFF)
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PLOT: The true story of Tennis champ Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) who, in 1973, accepted a challenge by Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) to play an exhibition game that he marketed as an epic battle of the sexes.

REVIEW: Despite being set in 1973, Billie Jean King’s story seems as relevant today as it did then. Emma Stone, who plays King, has gone on record saying that pay parity between the genders is rare in Hollywood, despite being so liberal. It’s not hard to imagine that the battle to get equal pay in tennis as depicted here is one that will strike a chord with a lot of women working in any male dominated industry over forty years later.

Bear in mind though, BATTLE OF THE SEXES is first and foremost entertainment. While it does cover a lot of ground, perhaps too much at times, it’s a fun, lovingly made slice of seventies nostalgia that very much feels like the kind of mainstream friendly indie that’s the bread-and-butter for distributor Fox Searchlight. They previously had tremendous success with directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (along with star Steve Carell) in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and this one seems primed to be a legit box office hit.

As King, Stone has a strong star vehicle to follow-up LA LA LAND with, making her into a likable heroine who never courted icon status, but just wanted her fare share. Complicating things is the fact that, despite being married, she’s gay, sparking a romance with a hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough) that, if known, could have wrecked her career. As shown here, gender equality - at the time - you could talk about. Being gay? Not so much, and Stone plays that reticence well.

Carell, as the brash Riggs, has another good part, with him trying to evoke that Riggs was more a relentless self-promoter than an actual sexist (with Bill Pullman as the head of the Association of Tennis Professionals being the real heavy), making the match more about putting himself, at age fifty-five, back out there when he’s considered over the hill. Carell mines a lot of humor out of his irascibility, including his gambling habit, which is so strong that he even plays blackjack during therapy with his shrink, and has made his wealthy patron wife (Elisabeth Shue) leave him.

Throughout, Dayton and Faris keep the tone light and the pace brisk, opting for a fun rather than heavy-handed vibe, with a soundtrack full of seventies tunes, and sly pokes at the horrible fashions through a gay designer (a scenery chewing Alan Cummings) recruited by King’s all-female tennis club to go on the road with them. They also shoot the movie in a rich, 35mm film like way, making it look convincingly like a film of the era - which is a nice touch.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES might be accused of being a little light weight to be a major part of the Oscar season, but even still, it’s good, solid mainstream fun - and an audience friendly picture if I’ve seen any at TIFF this year. It’s not hard to imagine this turning into an AMERICAN HUSTLE-sized breakout hit.

Source: JoBlo.com

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