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Battle of the Sexes

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Battle of the Sexes

The significance of the 1973 Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs tennis match wasn’t as obvious then as it is now. Those of us who watched it back then thought of it as a joke crafted by Riggs to promote himself after the end of his tennis career. King understood perfectly that if she won, her victory would be a big step forward in equal treatment for women in pay and in attitude. Her victory was a landmark step even though four decades later, women are still fighting for equality.

Men earned as much as eight times what women did in professional tennis and were astonished when anyone suggested that was unfair. Billie Jean King believed that if she could beat Riggs in this match that was infused with serious intent along with comic foolery she could change the treatment of women.

Emma Stone and Steve Carell create King, Riggs, and the tone of their time with marvelous perception. Riggs had won Wimbledon three times and hated every minute of trying to live a normal life after tennis. Steve Carell captures the feisty guy who loved gambling and drinking. He decided to challenge the women’s champion, beat her, and confirm that women must stay where they belong and he would wrap it all up as comedy.

Emma Stone is terrific as she captures both the determination and the doubts King feels as she accepts Riggs’ challenge. She wants equality in pay and recognition for women, two goals ridiculed by men in tennis and business. Ninety million viewers watched her beat Riggs in three sets. At stake was the beginning of the Women’s Liberation movement of that era.

New poignancy is added to the story by revelation of their private lives. King was married to a kind, supportive man (Austin Stowell) when she met Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), an attentive hairdresser who became, against King’s better judgement, her lover. Riggs was married to Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue) a rich woman who supported him in the style he loved.

In a strong supporting cast, Natalie Morales creates Rosie Casals as a tough, outspoken ally for King’s decisions. Jessica McNamee gives us a nasty Margaret Court, and Bill Pullman creates a thoroughly unpleasant Jack Kramer who represents every man in the world who believes women belong in the kitchen and the bedroom. In a welcome addendum, we are given short, welcome statements about the turns their lives took after that match in 1973.

Though the battle starts with Riggs’ wrapping himself in a joke to recreate himself, the serious issues are all right there. Emma Stone is superb as she shows us the toll exacted on Billie Jean King as she made the world understand that women were about to emerge from the kitchen. We hear “Someday we will be free to be who we are and love who we love.” Forty some years later, that day has still not arrived. Jack Kramer would be pleased.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Battle of the Sexes
Word Count : 496
Running time : 2:01
Rating : PG-13
Date : October 1, 2017

 

Rebel in the Rye

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Rebel in the Rye

Making a movie about an eccentric recluse who detested public scrutiny is a risky undertaking. Add to that the difficulty of drawing a portrait of the writer who created The Catcher in the Rye, and the challenge becomes even tougher. J.D. Salinger wrote thirteen short stories and one novel that sold 65 million copies and still sells 250,000 each year. Kenneth Slawenski wrote a biography and Danny Strong has directed Rebel in the Rye. Reviews have been negative. I liked it very much.

When someone develops an involuntary inner passion, little else matters. J.D. Salinger’s uninvited passion was writing. From a young age he saw the adult world as a collection of phony people while for him children were real. This movie follows the discomfort of a writer who is locked in his passion without wanting to be. He had to get that story out because it wouldn’t leave his head. He was living the story as he was writing it and he knew early on that he had to live the whole thing before he could finish it.

Salinger himself was Holden Caulfield in every way. He lived in a family with an encouraging mother and a father who insisted he must earn money in a traditional job. His father’s command was “Grow up!” He became friends with Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey), his writing teacher at Columbia. Burnett recognized his student’s talent and became a demanding advisor as he led him through the tough hurdles of becoming a published writer.

As a soldier in WWII the violence he saw knocked Salinger down. After watching the deaths of the D-Day invasion and the concentration camps at war’s end, he came home emotionally broken. His wartime experience and losing the woman he loved, Eugene O’Neill’s daughter Oona (Zoey Deutch), stopped him cold before he was able to finish the book. Called arrogant by many, he was a tortured man.

Nicholas Hoult is convincing as Salinger though creating a portrait of a recluse is a tough assignment. Kevin Spacey is thoroughly convincing as the exacting advisor who offers encouragement when he sees the talent in his difficult student. Credit Sarah Paulson as Salinger’s agent along with Hope Davis and Victor Garber as his parents.

After moving to isolation in the woods of Cornish, NH, Salinger finished the book, wrote a few essays and disappeared from public view until the obituaries announced his death at 91.

This was a man who detested the ruckus that accompanied the success of his novel and refused to recognize, much less to capitalize on the fame that had engulfed him so suddenly. He saw the adult world as a world of fools. Salinger was an introvert writing from his own experience as it unfolded. For me, and I hope for many others, his life story is as compelling as the fine book he wrote about it. The movie is a brave first shot at understanding a genuine introvert.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Rebel in the Rye
Word Count : 497
Running time : 1:46
Rating : PG-13
Date : September 24, 2017