Battle of the Sexes

Too much Bobby, not enough Billie.

RIGGS KING

* * * 1/2

This telling of the events leading up to, and including, the tennis match instigated by Bobbie Riggs versus Billie Jean King and billed as a Battle Of The Sexes is fun and extremely easy to watch. But by dividing the film’s focus 50/50 between both players, and by bending over backwards to make Riggs seem like a totally acceptable dude in his own right rather than the bad guy, we are robbed of an insightful film about Billie Jean King, who is so obviously a more interesting, and historically significant, person than Riggs.

Riggs (Steve Carell) is portrayed as “wacky” but not disturbed, incorrigible but not troubled, annoying but not disturbing, frustrating but not dangerous. He’s like a tiny insect, pesky but not powerful enough to ruin your picnic. And, often, he’s “loveable”, and way too much time is given over to scenes with his wealthy, dramatically inert wife to try and prove it. I don’t think I’d find him loveable but the movie wants us to.

The other half of the film – Billie Jean’s half – is far superior, with Emma Stone giving a perfectly modulated, low-key performance. The film’s three thematic strands are The Match, Feminism, and King’s Transition to Gayness, and all three are touched on well if not enough.

The film looks great – it even has a 70s grain, and uses camera moves of the period, such as zooms – and the match itself is brilliantly re-created and, incredibly, tense as hell. But the movie feels like a massive missed opportunity. Emma Stone’s “Billie” would have been – potentially – a far richer film.

Incidentally, the portrayal of Margaret Court – given her current newsworthiness – is fascinating. Seems she was ever thus.

The Big Short

image****1/2 (out of five)

Assured, brash, loud and very, very funny, The Big Short makes thrilling entertainment out of indescribably complicated financial shenanigans using any means necessary – such as offering up Margot Robbie in a bubble-bath, by having a voice-over announce chirpily, “To explain it to you, here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.”

It’s that kind of irreverence that keeps this story of louts in suits powering ahead. Despite being loaded with lingo, drenched in jargon, it’s the most energetic movie outside of Fury Road this year. The cast, of course, help: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater and particularly theatre luminary Jeremy Strong all know how to serve dialogue straight and hard towards the base line. The voice-over comes from Jared Vennett, played by Ryan Gosling, himself no slouch in the machine-gun delivery department, and Brad Pitt takes a small but luxuriant role as a billionaire with a green streak. They’re all excellent.

Most impressively, director Adam McKay juggles our sympathies as well as he does the machinations of the convoluted (true) story. These guys are all essentially jerks but they’re juxtaposed against (mainly unseen) much bigger jerks, emerging as (dubiously) loveable underdogs. Michael Lewis wrote the book on which McKay and Charles Randolph’s zippy screenplay is based; he was the guy who wrote Moneyball, which was turned into a film that tonally echoes this one. Just like you didn’t need to know your fastball from your highball to enjoy that terrific film, so too The Big Short lets you in even if you can’t tell your Collateralised Debt Obligations from your Credit Default Swaps. Don’t miss it.