With all the hype around this movie being some sort of Oscar contender, I made it a priority because… well, when I write my next article criticizing The Oscars for giving dumb awards to undeserving films, I figured I should write about it with some sort of knowledgeable authority.
So off I went to go see this supposed grand film.
So how was this movie? It was meh.
Does it deserve to be anywhere near some sort of Oscar nomination? Not at all. But I believe it’s going to be nominated anyway, and I’ll tell you why soon enough.
For those who don’t know what this movie is about, here’s a summary in 20 words or less:
Tennis superstar Billie Jean King is challenged by Bobby Riggs to a match to prove men are better at everything.
I mean… that’s what the trailers led me to believe anyway, and that is indeed what happens… eventually. But I digress.
Everyone does fine with the roles they were given. Emma Stone and Steve Carell are both good, and so is everyone else. Bill Pullman is serviceable. Alan Cumming is fine. Shoot, even Hollywood’s very own designated unfunny hack Sarah Silverman managed to get a few chuckles from me because of her performance.
Unfortunately, no one ever does better than fine. Sure, they definitely transformed Stone and Carell to look like Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, respectively. However, there’s not enough writing or directing talent to make either of these characters shine. The movie plays more like a dramatic documentary more than it does a well made work of storytelling. And no, it’s not even a great documentary either.
The dialogue frequently overdoses on cheesiness, and there were two or three moments, especially during the ending, where I had to hold back laughter because of just how cheesily dramatized certain events and pieces of dialogue were. On top of the cheesiness, this film has all sorts of unsubtle preachiness too.
Now, with a movie like this, where the main protagonist is literally up against sexism, there must be a reasonable amount of tolerance one should have for SOME preachiness. Battle of the Sexes surpasses the reasonable amount by a large margin. There were moments where I was trying to figure out if I was actually watching a movie or cinematic activism.
This doesn’t mention the fact that the King vs. Riggs match really isn’t even the focal point of this movie…
… but the trailers pretended it was. Shoot, the name implies that this was the center of the story.
But the movie is significantly more focused on Billie Jean King’s self-discovery about how she wants to be a lesbian.
The film gives a massive dose of sexual tension between her and her female lover well into the first twenty minutes of the movie, and it only escalates from there to the point where it engulfs the entire series of events. Every single scene of victory or defeat is interwoven with reminders that King wants to pork her hairdresser.
Now even though the trailers lied about this, this honestly would not be a big deal. Love stories can work as a focal point for a movie provided you can get the audience on board with the romance.
Do they do this? Nope.
Instead, you must witness King cheat on her husband with this woman. Is the husband unsupportive of King, driving her into the arms of a lesbian? Was he a misogynist? Abusive?
What exactly did he do?
The answer is nothing. King’s husband is portrayed as loving, fully supportive, and doting. When he finally figures out about the affair, not only does he not yell at her or publicly shame her, he goes out of his way to try to understand King’s infidelity, and even goes so far as to get out of the way so that King won’t get distracted and lose matches.
When they finally show that King wants to be with that woman no matter what, the husband character acknowledges this and steps away like the doormat he is.
So, if King is in a loving relationship already, then the only logical reason to root for this romance is if they show how much this woman completes King in ways that the husband wouldn’t. Instead, the relationship they have is almost completely based on sexual tension and affectionate stares. Oh, and I guess some standard romantic dialogue.
So why should I be rooting for this affair? For Self-discovery? Fulfillment? If Billie Jean King cheated on her husband with another man for fulfillment, then nobody would be defending her, so I don’t see the point.
And this is why Battle of the Sexes is likely going to be nominated for Oscars: because it promulgates the “correct” messages. Hidden Figures, which was only okay, got nominated because of this… and so did Moonlight.
Emma Stone doesn’t do anything groundbreaking for her repertoire (aside from making out with and undressing another woman), and Steve Carrell is nowhere near the caliber of Oscar-worthiness either.
The cinematography was nothing special and really did not add anything to film.
The soundtrack was predictable and merely served to explain to the audience how you were supposed to feel about certain events.
Nearly every single conflict established in the film gets dropped or forgotten instantly unless the conflict had to do with same-sex relationships or sexism.
But hey, there’s lesbians in it, so people are gonna grade it on a curve anyway.
Aside from some overwhelming cheesiness and on-the-nose preachiness, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this movie. But the film does not have anything truly remarkable to make it stand out either. It’s middle-of-the-road, and people are going to forget about it once award shows stop paying attention to it. You can certainly do worse than Battle of the Sexes, but you can also do significantly better as well.