Review Roundup: Did BATTLE OF THE SEXES Win Over the Critics?
The electrifying 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES and became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time. The match caught the zeitgeist and sparked a global conversation on gender equality, spurring on the feminist movement. Trapped in the media glare, King and Riggs were on opposite sides of a binary argument, but off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. With a supportive husband urging her to fight the Establishment for equal pay, the fiercely private King was also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, while Riggs gambled his legacy and reputation in a bid to relive the glories of his past. Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis courts and animated the discussions between men and women in bedrooms and boardrooms around the world.
Joining Stone and Carell in the cast are Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Jessica Mcnamee, Natlies Morales, Fred Armisen, Martha MacIsaac, Mickey Sumner, Bridey Elliott, Eric Christian Olsen, Wallace Langham and Matt Malloy. The film is produced by Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and Robert Graf and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton.
THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES hits theaters September 22, 2017. Before its release, critics have stated their verdicts. Let's see what some of them have to say.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: It's game, set and match for THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES, a massively entertaining account of the momentous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs that also deftly deals with the numerous social issues inherent in the carnival-like contest. Emma Stone comes out swinging with a terrific turn as a star player going through significant personal turmoil, while co-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton top their 2006 smash LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE with a finely tuned piece that deftly shoots the drama through with grand human comedy. This is an all but sure-fire early fall winner for FOX Searchlight.
Peter Debruge, Variety: Stepping up their game considerably, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris direct this perfectly cast crowd-pleaser, which reteams them with Steve Carell, who dons sideburns and a bad wig to play the 55-year-old Riggs - but is otherwise nicely matched to the extravagant gambling man's larger-than-life persona. Still, it's King whom nearly everyone will be rooting for here, especially since the 29-year-old was facing off against a kind of chauvinism that hasn't necessarily gone away, and thoroughly modern LA LA LAND star EMMA STONE seems uncannily well-suited to the part. She's an actress who generally seems out of place in period movies - but is just right to play a woman so far ahead of her time.
Stephen Whitty, New York Daily News: Sometimes Dayton and Faris seem to think they're making LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE again, cramming the film with oddballs. Occasionally the script takes lazy shortcuts (King's husband wasn't just a good-natured hunk, but a real force behind that first Virginia Slims tour.) But then the film remembers its main characters, and their clear conflict. And just when you've gotten lulled by some calm, easy volleys, it hits another beautiful overhead smash. The match may be winner-take-all. But nobody leaves this film a loser.
Anthony Lane, The New Yorker: The film is directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, who made LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006), and, as in that winsome fable, the steady procession of setups and payoffs can feel suspiciously pat. Yet the new movie holds more surprises. The showdown in Houston, for instance, comes across as tacky rather than triumphant, its sexual politics smothered in salesmanship, and redeemed only by the ferocity of Stone's demeanor as she puts away yet another smash. As for Riggs, his bragging, thanks to Carell's sympathetic portrayal, seems less like militant misogyny than like a last desperate flourish of P.R. from a middle-aged jerk on the slide.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The AV Club: An amiable, minor crowd-pleaser, THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES plays out as a pair of character studies: King, the reserved but powerfully motivated champion butting up against the insidious sexism of sports and media while coming to terms with her own sexuality; Riggs, the middle-aged compulsive gambler and clown playing the part of an exaggerated chauvinist pig for attention and publicity. In terms of visual style, this is the most mature work that Faris and Dayton...have produced; the mostly effortless use of long lenses, doorways, mirrors, silhouettes, and big empty spaces makes up for some of the broader instincts of the script. Its one real problem is that it just isn't interested in tennis; the climax is directed no differently than the highlight reel of a TV broadcast, with the rousing score (by MOONLIGHT'S Nicholas Britell) doing much of the heavy lifting.
David Ehrlich, IndieWire: This is a film that admires - even awes at - Billie Jean King, but it doesn't share her commitment to the game. If anything, it has more in common with Riggs than it should, moving with the sluggishness of a player who underestimates their opponent. Despite beautiful production design and a rousing score from MOONLIGHT composer Nicholas Britell, THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES is shot and structured with the casualness of a rally, not the urgency of a match point. Grade: C+.
Brian Tallerico, RobertEbert.com: As for performances, Dayton & Faris have always been strong with an ensemble, and that's true here as well. Stone is subtle and powerful, but Riseborough actually gives my favorite performance of the film, playing someone who feels more three-dimensional than the icons at the center of the piece. Similarly, Alan Cumming does a lot with just a few scenes, which isn't that unusual for him. Less fortunate are Shue and Pullman, turned into the archetypes of the Frustrated Wife and the Sexist Boss. The final scenes of Pullman sneering as he watches the match might as well have had him twirling a curled mustache. It's that superficial approach to the world around Billie Jean King that diminishes her story. Instead of a timeless story, this feels like a Hollywood production that softens what was truly and genuinely a battle, one that women are still fighting today.