The Reel Dad: Battle of the Sexes reveals inner conflicts

For all the memories that the new movie Battle of the Sexes may generate, this detailed recreation of tennis in 1973 is less a tale of sport than an exploration of bravery to confront personal truth. While the film may make us chuckle at how we once lived, it should make us think about the standards we held. This perceptive look at days gone by reminds us that battles for fairness and equality never end. They simply begin new games, sets and matches.

Filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris — who gave us Little Miss Sunshine — let us know, from the start, this movie will unfold at two levels. Flying high above the crowd is the exaggerated presence of Bobby Riggs, a former tennis champion now trapped in a life of habitual gambling, marital tension and professional disappointment. But he knows how to wow a crowd and work his base. He initiates a new phase of self-promotion by inviting female tennis players Margaret Court and Billie Jean King to join him for ultimate battles between male and female athletes.

Emma Stone, left, and Steve Carell in The Battle of the Sexes.

If the film only told this story, it would be an entertaining romp through a societal scrapbook filled with funny looking clothes, outrageous eyewear and norms inconsistent with how people today think people should think. But screenwriter Simon Beaufoy has more on his mind than opening a time capsule; he also chooses to open the door into King’s private closet as she battles her feelings about women. In these quiet moments, the film shines, respectfully revealing a lady’s struggle to confront herself. How the filmmakers connect these scenes of personal conflict with the external views of public success give the movie its edge. And make us sit at the edge of our seats.

The suspense works because of how delicately these scenes are written, directed and acted. As King, Emma Stone is a revelation, reaching deeper into the character’s inner demons than, as an actress, she has journeyed before. This is not the same lady who delighted her way to an Oscar for La La Land. That delightful performance merely suggests the subtlety of Stone’s approach to King. Playing any living person is tricky; the balance of respect and truth can toss many a well-intentioned performance. Stone embraces this challenge, never letting the surface suggest the core, never relying on visual tricks to reveal truth. The performance is commanding and authentic. And Stone makes the tennis moves work, too.

As Riggs, Steve Carell must reconcile his natural sense of humor with the character’s exaggerated behavior. If he disappoints, it’s not his fault as an actor. The script’s cartoonish approach to Riggs never reaches beyond caricature. Perhaps that’s on purpose. Because the film so effectively takes us inside King, especially with Stone’s master turn, the journey may be more meaningful because Riggs rings so artificial. That he is so phony may help us embrace the authenticity of Stone’s approach to King.

Of course, the film concludes with a game of tennis. But that’s not what we remember. Once the match ends, we savor the route King takes to reach her own center court.

Film Nutritional Value: Battle of the Sexes

  • Content: High. Filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris strike a balance of internal and external conflict in this recreation of the tennis battle between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
  • Entertainment: High. While the film may be billed as an epic confrontation on the court, the real battle occurs within the heart, mind and sense of obligation of the film’s leading lady.
  • Message: High. The movie reminds us that, to move forward, we must confront personal truth. Or we may never feel the fresh air again.
  • Relevance: High. No matter how funny the looks from 1973 may be, it’s good to be reminded how commitment to fairness and equality should never go out of style.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the realities of relationships, conflict and authenticity.

(Battle of the Sexes is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity. It is not appropriate for young children. The film runs 113 minutes.Four Popcorn Buckets. Read more about Emma Stone below.)

Emma Stone Makes Us Sing in La La Land

By Mark Schumann

Father of Three

Emma Stone is a joy on screen.

In her Oscar-winning La La Land, the actress radiates happiness in every moment. Even when she’s sad. And she sings and dances in a world far away from the realities of her new film, Battle of the Sexes.

Unlike that look at the world of tennis and searching hearts, La La Land offers irresistible escape. No matter what you may feel or fear, this original musical will inspire you to embrace a brighter tomorrow. Just as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers helped a nation survive the Great Depression in the 1930’s, an evening with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone may be the ticket to restore your belief in the joys to experience today. La La Land is more than a movie. It’s a reason to wake up in the morning.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling shine in La La Land.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling shine in La La Land.

Now, for people who love musicals, La La Land is not your standard order tuner. While most song and dance movies showcase big numbers in big adaptations of big Broadway hits, this is a small movie with big dreams. It’s softer, quieter, slower, with songs and dances that naturally emerge from the story and the characters. And this makes La La Land a delight for people who savor creativity at the movies. The movie doesn’t simply play. It floats.

Director Damien Chazelle, who dazzled with Whiplash, launches this musical journey with an opening sequence that captivates, excites and makes us want more. Who could imagine a crowded Los Angeles freeway as the backdrop for the most thrilling opening number since Julie Andrews discovered the hills were alive? From the moment the first honk initiates the fun, Chazelle’s opener reveals everything we need to know. We meet Stone’s captivating actress, Ryan Gosling’s brooding musician, and the city of lights that frames their dreams. And we can’t wait for what happens next.

For the next two hours, Chazelle delights with every possible musical moment a movie could welcome. Gosling and Stone, reaching for their inner Fred and Ginger, express attraction, love and disappointment. Like Mickey and Judy, they search for professional success in a world that can be unkind, use song to articulate their hopes and values and discover dancing to reveal their desires. As we find ourselves dazzled by how they handle those musical chores — and yes, they can sing and dance — we are captivated by the emotional depth of their work, especially in a musical. Gosling makes his brooding musician into a captivating dreamer while Stone simply dazzles as she reveals what a star she will be.

As with the best musicals, La La Land creates its own world. Every moment is carefully planned without waste. As screenwriter, Chazelle lets the story fill enough space to explain the context and characters without permitting it to overwhelm the entertainment. As director, he uses every part of the movie language to create a film that honors its past by creating something new to add to the evolution of the movie musical. And he makes it all look effortless.

As special as La La Land may be for everyone, musical movie buffs will have a field day spotting the moments that celebrate such past musicals as Swing Time, Singin’ in the Rain, Funny Face and The Bandwagon. By reminding us how much we love musicals, and showing us what a musical can be, Damien Chazelle honors legacy as he inaugurates a bright musical future. And Emma Stone makes it all look so easy.

Film Nutritional Value: La La Land

  • Content: High. Director Damien Chazelle creates a magical musical world where delightful characters float across the screen in song and dance.
  • Entertainment: High. Thanks to Chazelle’s creativity – and the endearing chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling – La La Land soars.
  • Message: High. The movie reminds us that any day can be brighter when filled with song and dance.
  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to laugh and smile, and tap your toes to such delightful song and dance, is always relevant.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You will find yourself remembering many moments. This is an ideal film to share with others.

(La La Land is rated PG-13 for “some language.” The film runs 2 hours and 8 minutes.)

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