Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes ★★★½

I remember being struck by how alive Little Miss Sunshine felt when I first saw it. It was a compelling story with a great cast of characters, but there was something specifically kinetic in Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' direction that made each and every emotional beat feel like it was happening right in front of you. With their latest feature, Battle of the Sexes, everything feels like it's kept at a distance.

I sincerely appreciated the attention given to Billie Jean King's sexuality, as it portrayed her as a real person and not just a tennis hero or some kind of historic activist. She did a lot of great things, but she was also a person with a lot of inner turmoil and anxieties. Simon Beaufoy's script paints her fairly well, but this ultimately reads as a series of publicly accessible facts with some subplots thrown in. Nothing here comes across as particularly insightful -- this is a pretty surface level biopic that only succeeds due to my complete lack of knowledge on its subject. Had I spent even 20 minutes looking into Billie Jean King's life, I'm sure that nothing in these two hours would've surprised me.

Dayton and Faris are clearly attracted to stories centered around clear goals and deadlines, but in this instance, their presentation of the event itself is just too simple. Billie Jean and Bobby both explicitly state what the match means to them, and while there's still some subtext to be read into, their goals couldn't be more obvious. The match itself is surprisingly well-choreographed, but the stakes didn't feel to be as high as they were. This match meant the world to Billie Jean, but the objective way in which its covered makes it feel fairly emotionless. I was shocked that I never bat an eye once during this movie, and that's something I attribute to dry direction. I should've been on the edge of my seat during that match, deeply invested in Billie Jean's success, rather than sitting passively and planning my next meal.

It's about what I expected. Battle of the Sexes entertains and lands a handful of laughs throughout, but the emotionally impactful moments were few and far between for me. I wouldn't describe this film as cold, but it is a rather sanitized picture. Solid lead performances tempt me to boost my rating a bit, but ultimately, a performance can only shine as bright as the film around it allows it to.

Rating: 68/100

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