September 27, 2017
Every Fall, audiences are treated to the barrage of Oscar-bait films that distributors put out in droves in hopes of taking home a coveted Academy Award come February. Last year, eight out of the nine best picture nominees were released between the months of September and December, with the one outlier – Hell or High Water – opening in late August. Still, each Oscar season is filled with high points and low points in film, although not many people recall the middle-ground films that don’t quite make the cut for the Oscars, but are far too good to leave in the dust. In other words: Golden Globes movies. Films like Nocturnal Animals, The Lobster and Miss Sloane spring to mind from last year’s crop, but this year’s selection has quite a strong first Golden Globes movie in Battle of the Sexes.
Don’t get it twisted, Battle of the Sexes is quite good, but it’s a little too fluffy to see taking home an Academy Award.
The year is 1973, and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) has recently taken the title of Women’s World Champion in Tennis. Angered by the pay inequality between male and female players, King – along with a bevy of female players – leave the International Lawn Tennis Foundation and form their own female tennis league. After the publicity of the protest, self-proclaimed “male chauvinist pig” and former tennis champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) – in a fit of a gambling addiction – challenges King to a tennis match to prove sexual superiority and win $100,000. Deterred by Riggs’ misogynistic attitude, King initially declines the offer to play Riggs, but eventually submits to the highly publicized “Battle of the Sexes” to prove women’s worth in tennis once and for all. Meanwhile, King struggles with her marriage with her husband, Larry (Austin Stowell), due to her burgeoning sexuality as a lesbian.
As with nearly every film she stars in, Stone is the main reason that Battle of the Sexes is such a delight to watch. Channeling King’s strength as a feminist (in a time where being a feminist wasn’t normalized), as well as her own quirky charm, Stone finds a wonderful balance between the serious and the lighthearted without ever missing a beat. If there was any actual Oscar Battle of the Sexes could swing, it would be for Stone’s performance without a doubt. Carell is also quite good here, even if Riggs does come across a bit similar to Carell’s iconic portrayal of Michael Scott on The Office. The big difference here is that, unlike Scott, Riggs is aware of the ignorance he spews, making Carell’s presence very fun to watch, even if it doesn’t quite bring the laughs it could.
Helmed by Little Miss Sunshine directors Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton, Battle of the Sexes is well-directed, even if nothing here feels particularly new or exciting. This is an attractive film with a lot to look at, and one that really nails down the time period, without ever feeling like a parody unto itself because of it. The warm color palette of the film leaves a warm and cozy feeling, making Battle of the Sexes feel like the perfect film to watch in bed on a rainy day.
Next to Stone’s performance, Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay might be the closest thing to an Academy Award Battle of the Sexes might pull out. Thanks to a wonderful balance between serious and funny – as well as utilizing LGBT characters and stories during a time period when those stories were buried from society – this makes for a really effective and unique story to tell. It would’ve been easy for a screenwriter to ignore many of the issues surrounding King’s sexuality and focus solely on the match, but the story and the respectful fashion it’s told in make Battle of the Sexes far more than a film just about tennis, or even feminism for that matter. It’s about the importance that being your true self has on your success. Tack on the fact that Beaufoy does so without feeling heavy handed, too, and you have writing magic.
Add all these elements together and you’re left with 2017’s first Golden Globes flick. While there are good enough elements for the film to swing perhaps an Oscar nomination or two, the inclusion of a comedy category at the Golden Globes (to which I would assume Fox Searchlight would market this under) is going to be the thing that works best in Battle of the Sexes’ favor. That being said, this is a lightweight, wholly enjoyable film that – despite not doing anything particularly new when it comes to sports films or biopics – has hardly anything wrong with it to fault.
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5