Battle of the Sexes (12A) Review

Lauren Sneath reviews this tennis drama starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell.

4th December 2017
Image: Showcase Cinemas

I am one of those people loved by any film producer because I am inevitably always sucked in. I’m very rarely displeased by cinema; I greedily consume a story without reservation, fall in love with characters without censorship. So, of course, I am now Emma Stone’s number one fan.

I knew the story of Battle of the Sexes vaguely - a heart warming, feminist victory over classic male chauvinism, set in the historically testosterone fuelled world of American tennis. When I sat down, I expected something light; Steve Carell providing easy laughs, Emma wide-eyed and probably falling in love. All of this took place, but took a very different form to my preconceived idea.

It’s easy to be loud (and even easier when you’re Steve Carell and have built a career around it) but Bobby Riggs was a step even further than Carell’s classic characters have been. Bizarrely, despite the character’s open sexism and complete lack of moral feeling, I couldn’t help but warm to him. This was perhaps helped along by Riggs’ wife - their marriage as a side story was, aside from his relationship with his son, the only aspect which showed his humanity.

Carell as Riggs was at times painful to watch (how many offensive jokes can one man (or a whole host of script-writers and developers) make?) but the way he made me feel uncomfortable was brilliant. It was real; his brashness and lack of empathy makes a perfect reflection of how unfeeling society was at that time, and Emma as his perhaps overly emotional counterpart an excellent figurehead for change.

Stone herself was an excellent heroine. I’m easy to please, I’ll admit, but I’d be surprised to find someone completely unaffected by her energy and determination. She and Carell bounced off each other to add a showy dynamic to what could otherwise seem a rather heavy film.

I was particularly impressed the play-by-play way in which the final match was filmed; it felt genuine, and by the end I almost forgot the fictional aspect and simply enjoyed the tennis

The high volume, high drama world of tennis and women’s rights was balanced by a perhaps surprisingly believable performance by Stone of a struggle with sexuality. Maybe I’m too used to seeing her loved up with Ryan Gosling, but until I saw this film I was a little sceptical of her ability to act this credibly- without turning the role into a classic, ‘Oscar-bait’ part to add to her portfolio.

Andrea Riseborough was also convincing, though perhaps a little airy. I do feel that too much emphasis was placed upon Jean’s ‘temptation’- though in order to show the character’s distraction and heighten tension pre-game, perhaps it was necessary.

The number of close-up shots was borderline uncomfortable - Emma Stone has incredible teeth, though, by the way- but in general, I found the cinematography in keeping with the story. . I hope that was the intention of directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Yes, I’m something of a film-whore. I’ll sing the praises of any film, any story, any actor which makes me feel something, and from the slow motion first sequence to Stone’s last, victorious smile, I was captivated. Is it really bad practice to applaud in a cinema?

Rating: 4/5

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