BATTLE OF THE SEXES and STRONGER mini-musings

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

 Emma Stone and Steve Carrell.

Emma Stone and Steve Carrell.

Chronicling the legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), BATTLE OF THE SEXES tackles the feminist struggle in the early 1970s. Sexism runs rampant in all the men throughout the story, and the film examines the battle on and off the court King faces. Disavowed from the main tennis association, led by Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), King decides to create her own women’s tennis league and tour the country promoting gender equality and social justice through sports. She is soon It’s an especially potent and timely story whose message is slightly dampened due to current circumstances. Nevertheless, BATTLE still manages to inspire as it zeroes in on King’s blossoming relationship with Marilyn Bennett (Andrea Riseborough) and its consequences on her relationship with her husband, Larry (a performance I finally like Austin Stowell in).

It culminates in a rah-rah finale match and is anchored by reliably good performances by Stone and Carrell (could this be a quasi-prequel to CRAZY, STUPID LOVE?), but never amounts to anything more than what it aspires to be. Which is fine, I just tend to hold these types of Oscar-caliber movies to a higher standard, in terms of storytelling or filmmaking. BATTLE OF THE SEXES is a feel good, inspiring time, and just what we need now.

RATING: DIDN'T WASTE MY TIME

(Refer to my rating system HERE!)


STRONGER

Speaking of inspiring stories, Jake Gyllenhaal leads STRONGER as Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs during the Boston Marathon bombing. The opening sets up the rocky on-and-off romance between Jeff and Erin (Tatiana Maslany); Jeff doesn’t always show up to things on time or at all, and is generally unmotivated. The one time he does decide to try, he supports Erin at the Boston Marathon finish line by making her a poster and greeting her there, but the bomb goes off and Bauman is critically injured. He goes through rehabilitation and fights to strengthen his body and spirit to get used to his new life.

 STRONGER features incredible performances from Tatiana Maslany & Jake Gyllenhaal.

STRONGER features incredible performances from Tatiana Maslany & Jake Gyllenhaal.

This exploration of this true event struck hard because of its willingness to portray life without sweetening it and keeping it harsh. On a filmmaking level, director David Gordon Green (who has a weird, wild filmography, including GEORGE WASHINGTON and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) is unafraid to let the camera linger on Jeff and Erin while the doctors remove the bandages from what is left of his legs. (Also, I couldn’t help but notice, a lot of scenes play out with both characters filmed on the sides of the frames, bringing them closer as the movie progresses.) Gyllenhaal expertly digs deep into Jeff’s psyche, and Maslany (whom I love dearly from Orphan Black and just from being incredible and beautiful) does a great job of not just being a normal/traditional girlfriend; she brings an amazing depth of humanity to the role and is super relatable because of it.

STRONGER is a movie that will make you have your tissues at the ready, which doesn’t manipulate you into those emotions. The dramatic irony of Jeff being there for Erin (for once) and in a roundabout way his injuries being her fault gives stakes and makes each scene between them filled with tension.

Rating: purchasing for my collection

(Refer to my rating system HERE!)

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