Battle of the Sexes – Billie Jean is not my lover

Battle of the Sexes – Billie Jean is not my lover
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Battle of the Sexes – Billie Jean is not my lover

   

Tennis is a great sport. On the one hand, it’s a hell of a physical challenge. And on the other, it’s a hell of a chess match. You need brains and brawn to be successful. And there’s only two of you out there (unless we’re talking doubles) while the world watches. Your flaws are on display. No helmet shields your face, no teammates for you to blame. It’s you and your opponent, and usually the better man or woman wins. For this reason, tennis has star athletes. And whether the athlete asks for it or not, the personal nature of the game makes you a character – a hero, a villain, or if you’re not enough of either, a boring character.

In Battle of the Sexes – a starring role for player/character Billie Jean King – she’s the latter. She carries all the emotional heft of a cruise ship ping pong match. And that’s only partially a knock on Emma Stone, who plays King. Try as she does to give life to a closeted lesbian uber-competitive national superstar, she can’t quite get it over the net.

It shouldn’t be hard. This movie has all the makings of a classic like A League of Their Own: a compelling lead, women’s liberation and anti-feminism, a genuinely interesting match in a genuinely interesting sport, and their wild card – LGBTQ issues.

Ah yes – the awkward fumbling lesbian scenes at the barber shop, in the hotel room, on a road trip – they seemed less like real situations between a blue collar worker and mega-national star and more like two Burger King employees experimenting on their smoke breaks. And the husband who knows what’s going on but has an emotional reaction akin to someone eating bad sushi but still going back to the same restaurant.

Then there’s the interesting character – Bobby Riggs. He’s supposed to give this some flare, right? Steve Carell playing a senior tour player who for some unknown reason besides the fact that he likes to gamble (which is hammered home aplenty) is on a crusade against women’s tennis and basically the whole female gender. He doesn’t hate women, it seems. He doesn’t need a lot of money, it seems. He’s just a zany guy with a zany idea and it comes to fruition. He’s more like Don King than anything, but the filmmakers want him to be Apollo Creed. They even have that familiar “I don’t have to train and I can sit in front of the TV because my opponent is a joke” schtick going on. But Apollo he is not. They don’t even establish him as a quality tennis player to begin with to make it seem believable that 90 million viewers would tune into the match.

A great sports movie is able to build a story around great characters, find their motivations, their challenges, and then make all of those come to light at the climactic moments. A great sports movie is not built haphazardly around the idea that LGBTQ topics are ‘trendy’ and we should make a movie about that, but sort of about this crazy tennis match. It seems like the filmmakers started the wrong way, and even if they weren’t trying to make a sports classic like Rocky, they totally missed the humanity, humor, and empowering message that movies like A League of Their Own or Million Dollar Baby deliver.

The more interesting pieces that were not really explored in the movie were how King helped start a new women’s tennis league because women were not getting fair compensation in the USLTA. And then we never get to see further down the road when King comes out as gay. So the movie went from a quasi-LGBTQ love story to a story about women’s liberation and gender discrimination, and then somewhere in between there was some tennis.

“Battle of the Sexes” did not make me THINK

This was one of my least favorite aspects of the film, because they tried. They even cast Fred Armisen as Bobby’s pill-giver and court-side masseuse. And having two comedic heavyweights such as Emma Stone and Steve Carell in the leads made me think laughs were coming, or maybe tears, but nothing. The only funny part was Sarah Silverman’s character. I have no idea who she was really supposed to be but she had the only chuckles during runtime.

“Battle of the Sexes” did not make me LAUGH

This was quintessential surface-level exploration of very deep issues with nothing surprising in the love story or the discrimination story.

“Battle of the Sexes” did not make me CRY

 

Craig Schattner

Craig Schattner

Craig is not a Wes Anderson fan. He likes films that serve as background noise, but only because they're so good he's seen them enough to pay little attention. "Dunk Your Bagel" is the name of his now defunct video troupe and his favorite activity to do with a bagel and coffee.
Craig Schattner

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