REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes & The Meyerowitz Stories (LFF Days 2-3)

Meyerowitz

Battle of the Sexes

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)
The real-life Battle of the Sexes, the 1973 tennis match between women’s world champion Billie Rae King and former men’s champion Bobby Riggs, is an event that might well have been conceived with dramatisation in mind.

To say that the film version, co-directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), in a populist, mainstream sports biopic takes nothing away from it.

Emma Stone stars as Billie Jean King, who, among many other successes, led the charge for equal pay. Suavely chauvinistic ATP founder Jack King (Bill Pullman), who seems to have been born into a tuxedo, presents the huge discrepancy– as a matter of ability between the genders. “It’s not your fault”, he shrugs: “It’s biology”.

It’s into this breach that Billy Riggs (Steve Carrell) brazenly steps. A hustler and a showman, he sees the women’s liberation movement as the ideal opportunity to make himself relevant again. It’s to the credit of Simon Beaufoy’s script that the film avoids making him an outright villain. Riggs may be a bozo, but “Male Chauvinist Pig”™ is a marketing ploy as opposed to a sincere position.

Billie, though fearless on the court, is also playing a role: that of a heterosexual woman. She clearly cares for her handsome, beach-boy husband Larry (Austin Stowell), but can’t help being in love with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), her free-spirited hairdresser, with whom she achieves a profound intimacy.

Sunnily shot on telephoto lens, the tennis sequences achieve a sense of period fidelity; seamlessly integrating Stone’s and Carrell’s doubles into the action. The real Howard Cosell makes an appearance, too; creepily draped over co-commentator Rosie Casalls’ (Natalie Morales) shoulder.

If Battle of the Sexes somewhat overplays the broader cultural relevance of King and Riggs’ face-off, the tennis and drama on display are both exemplary. What more can you ask for than that?

 

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

4 Stars (4 / 5)
Noah Baumbach’s latest contains the cinematic equivalent of a full eclipse: when Adam Sandler’s genuine interest in a project overlaps with his ability to really bring something to it.

A Netflix production1The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is the Tenenbaumian tale of a family of artistically-inclined New York Jews who centre around their beardy patriarch, Harold (Dustin Hoffman).

A minor sculptor with a businesslike belief in his own genius compared to those of his more successful, but simply “skillful” contemporaries.2, Harold has always taken his now-middle-aged kids for granted, which has impacted each of them in different ways.

Danny (Sandler), a former house-husband, now unemployed schlub, is a good father to Eliza (Grace Van Patten) – an easy-going wunderkind and aspiring filmmaker3– but also a self-loathing sad-sack, but with fewer, if not non-existent, anger issues compared to his usual type. He feels like a natural member of a household where everyone is cultured, always talking, talking over each other, never listening. In this regard, yelling at New York traffic is just good practice.

His sister, Jean (Elizabeth), long-haired and bespectacled, has made a career out of disappearing into the wallpaper. Their half-brother, Matthew (Ben Stiller), is a successful businessman with some deep resentment issues, but who has himself fallen into the trap of trying to parent his young son over the phone. Their latest step-mother, meanwhile – Harold’s fourth wife – Maureen (Emma Thompson) is a tie-dyed lush in rose-lensed specs, who’s set on selling off the family home, with all the furniture and Harold’s work into the bargain, and decamping to the holiday home on a permanent basis.

The Meyerowitz Stories is structured as three chapters – the first three each dedicated to one of the “kids” – but never feels episodic for it. Danny, Jean, and Matthew’s relationship with their father, and with one another, forms the crux of the film, as, over the course of lunch dates and exhibitions, they seek to challenge the old man, to gain his approval, or at least his attention. Baumbach’s film is a witty, emotionally complex portrayal of the slow drip-drip-drip of disappointment and exasperation that can come to define our lives. After a certain point, you have to stop trying to solve things, to make up for them, and just let it go.

The clear influence is, of course, Woody Allen, but, unlike Allen, Baumbach shows the root and the fruit of his character’s insecurities and fears.4 Throw in some memorable dialogue – “$35 for a salmon. You get the salmon to blow you for that price?” – and a touch of Pythoesque physical comedy, and you have a family outing that’s well worth making the trip.

The Meyerowitz Stories arrives on Netflix on October 13th, 2017.
  1. Hence, presumably, Sandler’s involvement. Call it the positive flip-side to the likes of
  2. Embodied in the form of a sincere, beanie-wearing Judd Hirsch.
  3. Whose experimental short films feel like a more sexually explicitly Wes Anderson.
  4. For instance, what if Harold isn’t an undiscovered genius? What if he’s just an eccentric asshole?

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs (www.ofallthefilmblogs.blogspot.co.uk). Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist (www.themetropolist.com) and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape (www.ap2hyc.com). Co-host of the Electric Shadows podcast (http://bit.ly/29Pd7RS) and member of the Online Film Critics Society (http://www.ofcs.org).

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