As we waited for “Battle of the Sexes,” to begin, my daughter Emma said, “Mum, I know you were very, very young in 1973, but do you remember anything about the tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King?”
I replied, “Emma, I was indeed a mere child, but I do remember thinking two things: “What’s the big deal?” and “This better not be on the same time as “The Partridge Family.”
Apparently the match was a big deal, taking place in the Houston Astrodome and reaching a TV audience of 90 million people around the world. Spoiler alert: King won and the result was women received equal pay for equal work from that day forward! Oh, wait.
“Battle of the Sexes” (PG-13) is part biopic, part history lesson, with a sprinkling of humor, romance and more than enough bell bottoms. Those a tad older than Amanda might think you remember the event. But do you recall that Riggs played women’s champ Margaret Court before he played King or that he posed nude (maybe you forced yourself to forget that one.).
Before the big match, we meet Riggs (Steve Carell), at 55, former tennis champ with a gambling problem who hustles his friends and ticks off his wife. He’s frustrated and wants to be back in the limelight.
Meanwhile, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is also frustrated by the lack of respect and fair pay she and the other female tennis players are getting on the pro circuit. Backed by businesswoman Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), King and other female players risk it all to break off and form their own league. Note to film industry: This deserves its own movie, starring Silverman.
King’s storyline gets and deserves more screen time. Married to a nice, blonde guy, she hesitatingly starts a relationship with her free-spirited hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), which if discovered, would basically destroy her life.
Stone, who won the Best Actress Oscar this year for “La La Land,” delivers a thoughtful performance. The shag haircut and oversized glasses help her to resemble King, but Stone captures the fierceness of King’s character and the fear.
Carell meanwhile, looks exactly like Riggs, and when he’s on the court in women’s clothes or making a scene at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, you feel like you’re watching the real guy. And while it’s hard to feel sympathy for a man who promises to put “the show back in chauvanism” and refers to his opponent as “a hairy-legged feminist,” we do see Riggs’ vulnerable side in his relationship with his wife and adult son. He’s a desperate guy who goes a bit too far.
“Battle of the Sexes” is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who directed “Little Miss Sunshine,” also starring Carell. Like that movie, “Battle” is fun, smart and very enjoyable. The screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, tries to take on a bit too much with all the relationships, conflict, and shenanigans. However, it does a great job of showing why this match was much more than a publicity stunt and boy does the look of the film bring you back to 1973, if unlike Amanda, you are of an age when you remember those days.
“American Made” takes us back to a less sporty time of the 1970s, when a man named Barry Seal went from being a TWA pilot to working for both the CIA and the Medellin Drug Cartel. This one is “loosely based on a true story” and I’m pretty sure that means the real Seal was not nearly as attractive as Cruise.
In order to enjoy “American Made” (R), one has to accept the fact that because it’s Cruise here, you’re going to like Seal more than you should. This is a guy who basically made a fortune doing bad things and bringing in tons of cocaine to the United States. He risks the life of his beautiful wife (Sarah Wright Olsen) and adorable kids and countless others and you still kind of like him. It’s Tom Cruise! He does his own stunts! His hair looks amazing!
Even if half this story is true, it’s pretty wild and fascinating, eventually involving Pablo Escobar, Manuel Noriega and Ronald Regan. It’s like Forest Gump but with more guns and drugs.
Cruise plays Seal as brazen and cunning, but clueless as to how he’s basically in way over his head. As things start to unravel, as we know they must, Seal/Cruise becomes more desperate but still almost wistfully hopeful.
“American Made” is directed by Doug Liman, who teamed with Cruise for 2014’s excellent “Edge of Tomorrow” He certainly keeps things moving and when the story gets confusing, uses graphics and animation to explain things to the audience, a device that really worked for me. The supporting cast is just fine, but really that’s all they’re doing, supporting Cruise who is the reason to see “American Made.”
Battle of the Sexes 4 of 5
American Made 3 ½ * of 5