Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A glossy and often relevant retelling of one of the most famous matches ever, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Battle of the Sexes is centered on both the tennis court and the court of public opinion. Both matters are firmly on the focused mind of Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), the famed pro who was demanding equal pay for women in 1973 when the picture is set.

King and her fellow female players aren’t getting near that, so they start a league of their own, under the sponsorship of Virginia Slim cigarettes (it was a different time). Another player sees an opportunity to cash in on the publicity and that’s Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a former champion now in his mid 50s who spends most of his time as a compulsive gambler (though he doesn’t see it that way). His challenge to King to meet on the court generated a divide among the sexes and many eyeballs on the eventual event – apparently about 90 million.

The court of public opinion doesn’t extend to gender issues. King is married to Larry (Austin Stowell) who helps run her fledgling empire. Yet when she meets free spirit hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), a romance quickly develops. King is smitten, but she knows it must stay in the closet to protect her career.

Battle of the Sexes tells this tale entertainingly and somewhat superficially. The themes of gender equality are ones that render four decades later. Stone has the most material to work with in her nuanced and strong portrayal of King. There’s not much nuance to Carell’s Riggs, though he’s certainly fun to watch.

The screenplay doesn’t delve too deep into his story, but Carell plays it well enough to avoid him becoming a total caricature. King seems to know Bobby isn’t quite the chauvinist louse he purports to be. The same cannot be said for Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer, a prominent former pro turned announcer who doesn’t understand anything about women’s liberation. The pic is peppered with familiar faces in smaller parts, including Elisabeth Shue as Bobby’s wealthy and frustrated wife and Alan Cumming as the team’s outfit designer who quickly figures out Billie’s affair.

King would eventually earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom due to her advocacy for gay rights and equal pay. Sexes sees her at the advent of that life’s work. We see her drive as she tirelessly practices to beat a man at his game when so few think it’s possible. In fact, hearing Howard Cosell’s actual play-by-play during the game is both a treat and a stark reminder that it was a different era. We know eventually that King’s relentless work ethic will be applied elsewhere and for an even greater cause. Battle doesn’t delve overly deep into how she got there, but it serves up its replay of history admirably enough.

*** (out of four)

Colossal Movie Review

Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is an entertaining little example of what happens when a major film actress wants to do something a bit different. Anne Hathaway is the star here and what we have here is her giving a strong performance in a genre you might not expect.

She plays Gloria, an alcoholic who’s just been dumped by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) and is forced to move from their NYC apartment. With no other options, Gloria goes back to her small town childhood home. Barely settling in, she reconnects with  childhood buddy Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who now owns his family neighborhood bar. Oscar offers her a part-time gig waitressing there and business picks up when the unthinkable occurs. Over in Seoul, South Korea – a Godzilla like creature wreaks havoc to those in its path. The citizens of the town go to the bar in the evening to drown themselves while viewing the unfolding developments. Yet there’s a very strange connection to Gloria and what’s happening thousands of miles away.

It turns out that she basically is the monster. If she stands at a playground at precisely 8:05am, her movements match what the monster does when it appears in Seoul. After making this unexpected discovery, she recognizes that she must use this gift (?) for good. However, those around her don’t necessarily share that sentiment.

Colossal clearly has a bizarre plot. Truth be told, your willingness to enjoy it may directly correlate to just going with it. I was able to mostly because of Hathaway’s commitment to the material. Her boozy Gloria is far from your typical heroine and the actress throws herself into the role (even if her drunken stupors humorously keep her unaware of what’s going on half the time). Sudeikis also has a ball with his complicated relationship with Gloria, which turns out to be quite integral to what’s going down in East Asia.

Once Colossal shows all its cards plotwise, it becomes slightly redundant in the last third. That said, the two leading performances and the film’s sheer weirdness and willingness to embrace that make it far from a waste of time.

*** (out of four)