Dueling Critics: <em>Battle of the Sexes</em>
Sep 29 2017

Dueling Critics: Battle of the Sexes

By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

Fritz: The fight against sexism is still an important, emotional issue in America, whether it's during a presidential campaign or the endless online abuse women journalists face from internet trolls. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) address the struggle for equality in their new film, Battle of the Sexes. Emma Stone plays tennis star Billie Jean King who accepts a challenge from former champion and chauvinist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) to play him in a tennis match. It's a film we both enjoyed. What about it appealed to you?

David: It's a great true-life underdog story, and the filmmakers really capture the essence of what was at stake. The characters feel real and multilayered, and that isn't always the case in films based on real people. Carell's Bobby Riggs comes off like a hustler playing the whole thing off as a goof, and he may not even believe all the chauvinistic rhetoric he is spouting, which is demeaning and hurtful. You feel the weight on the shoulders of Stone's Billie Jean King, knowing that her fight for women's equality can end in disaster if she loses this tournament. What is your take on the performances?

Dueling Critics: <em>Battle of the Sexes</em>

Fritz: I think if Emma Stone hadn't deservedly won last year for La La Land, she'd have a very good chance of winning for her performance here. She's still likely to get nominated again for her excellent work as Billie Jean King, who's a completely different character from Mia in La La Land. Carell strikes the right note of exasperating and annoying but charming enough to make you see why people put up with him.

The supporting performances are strong, too. Austin Stovall does fine work as King's husband Larry, who's portrayed as a decent guy who loves his wife and is hurt by her affair with her hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough). A lesser film would have glossed over him and focused on the joy of King's self-discovery. But Battle of the Sexes is wise enough to empathize with his character, too.

The other thing I appreciated is this: Battle of the Sexes has an important message about equality that's still relevant today, but the filmmakers remember to keep the proceedings entertaining. This never feels like the cinematic equivalent of eating your vegetables. How did you feel about how the film got its message across?

David: The movie is extremely entertaining and often funny, yet it never loses sight of its focal pointthe battle against sexism. We see the struggle through both the performances and in the situations. And the film throws in some interesting tidbits like the fact that Riggs's wife (Elisabeth Shue) bankrolls all his chauvinistic shenanigans. And speaking of, much of Riggs's stunts are often funny because they are so absurd.

Battle of the Sexes is Rocky (1976) for a new generation. It pulls you in and will have you cheering by the end. This is a true audience picture.

Fritz: One last point for me: the final act of the film wisely uses the real-life commentary from Howard Cosell. Cosell was the Monday Night Football announcer when I was a kid and truly one of broadcasting's greats. It's a minor point, but getting to hear his commentary again here is a pleasure and a reminder why he was one of the best. 

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