Minisode 038: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

In February we tasked our Patrons with choosing a romantic comedy for us to talk about in honor of Valentine’s Day and by a runaway vote, Crazy, Stupid, Love came out on top. We weren’t surprised, but we are thrilled because this resulted in one of our best conversations yet. We hope you enjoy the discussion!

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MOVIE REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes (2017)


Going In

In 1973, a tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs became the most watched televised sporting event of all time. Riggs was past his prime and in an effort to regain the lost spotlight, he claimed that even at the age of 55 he would be able to easily beat the best female tennis player. Billie Jean King (one of the women he challenged), was both extremely successful and an outspoken advocate for gender equality. This biopic starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell covers the famous match as well as the effect it had on their personal lives. I truly believe that Emma Stone can do no wrong, and in recent dramatic performances Carrell has proven to me that he is more than just a comedian. It feels like a movie year where Hollywood has embraced empowered female characters and this film should join that list. I love biopics. I love sports. And I expect that I will love Battle of the Sexes.



COMING OUT

Can we just take a moment to recognize the incredible talent of Emma Stone? Every year she seems to wow me more.  Her career has skyrocketed recently beginning with her wonderful supporting role in Birdman , then her Oscar-winning leading performance in La La Land, and now she has equaled that with her portrayal of Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes. From her fiery, outspoken strength on gender equality to her passionate, awkward confusion over her feelings for a same-sex lover to her determination and physical dominance on the tennis court, Stone captures every quality of BJK perfectly. Though the eventual famous tennis match between 29-year old BJK and 55-year old Bobby Riggs may give the film its central plot, make no mistake that this is truly King’s story.

The film’s retelling of Billie Jean King’s fight for equal pay and equal rights was very insightful. In getting back to the core of what feminism truly is about, we repeatedly hear BJK expressing the strengths that women can bring to the tennis association (and in other aspects of life) without ever speaking ill of men. She fights with facts, and the comedic way in which the film displays a widespread chauvinistic response to her logical claims is uncomfortably realistic for the time. Riggs, played wonderfully by Steve Carrell, is an excellent contrast. Generally known as a hustler with major gambling problems, even BJK acknowledges at one point that his extreme chauvinism is more likely for show to help sell the spectacle of their match than truly how he feels about women. We get to explore some aspects of his home life like a broken relationship with his son, a reliance on drugs to keep his body in top shape, and a failing marriage as they lead him down the path to the main event.

But again, Battle of the Sexes is really all about King, and very little about tennis. Despite the titular match being incredibly well shot and riveting, there wasn’t much other tennis. The film focuses greatly on BJK’s exploration of a same-sex relationship resulting in a love affair that would affect her deeply.  This wistful romance, however, occurs while King is still married to her husband Larry, and this is where the film lost me. I watched closely, waiting for the moment when consequences would come, but ultimately the movie has nothing good to say about commitment in relationships, and instead promotes a message of “love who you love” without being ashamed. That’s all well and good, if you’re single, but BJK wasn’t.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017)
Emma Stone
Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Twentieth Century Fox
Verdict

Battle of the Sexes is a compelling and hilarious biopic that will keep viewers engaged and interested for its entire runtime. It is also a welcome history lesson and reminder that though we’ve come far in women’s rights, there are still more bridges to cross. The film’s romanticizing of King’s affair, coupled with showing no attempts at marriage reconciliation, was a real downer for me despite the beautiful way in which the relationship with her lover was depicted. Its cinematography and stellar score by Nicholas Britell  are also major positives and create a solid all-around picture. BJK was a pioneer of her time and everyone should know her story.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: September 17-23

LESSON #1: FOR AT LEAST ONE FILM, DEFENDING OF INTEGRITY STILL EXISTS— I absolutely love Paramount Pictures’ statement of support for Darren Aronofsky’s mother! after its low box office debut and an “F” CinemaScore.  Here it is:

This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold. Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.

Other studios in other situations could have gotten in the bus driver’s seat, made up excuses, or assigned blame to everyone but themselves.  Love or hate the film (and plenty feel both), mother! deserves its chance for success and an audience no matter how large or small those results add up to be.  Bravo to the balls on Paramount brass!  That’s as forward an example of integrity as you’re going to see in a profit-driven business where art is secondary.

LESSON #2: BARRING HUGE UPHEAVAL, YOU CAN LOCK IN THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI AS ONE OF THE NOMINEES FOR BEST PICTURE AT THE UPCOMING 90TH ACADEMY AWARDS— Every year since 2008, the winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival has gone on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  Three eventual Best Picture winners since 2006 were TIFF champs.  Go ahead and write in permanent marker the title of Martin McDonagh’s newest film to the field.  I think you’ll also see star Francis McDormand’s name on the Best Actress short list as well.  Any and all Oscar buzz will float through this column all season.

LESSON #3: STRONGER IS THE BOSTON MOVIE WE DESERVED MORE THAN PATRIOTS DAY A YEAR AGO— The resonance surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing has always been more about the people than the bravura.  We deserved the real thing, not an overly convenient composite character in a Mark Wahlberg glamour project.  The most and maybe only genuine portion of Peter Berg’s film came in its extended epilogue of testimonials given by the actual citizens and participants.  Real respect and passion showed up after two hours of exploitative action.  David Gordon Green’s Stronger flips that ratio to deliver and demonstrate true dignity and tribute.  His film is outstanding.

LESSON #4: RESPECT WOMEN, PERIOD— On the heels of the metaphorical misogyny found in mother! arrives a debate-filled dramedy of a real-life climate of misogyny in Battle of the Sexes.  The Emma Stone/Steve Carell duel is an unabashed crowd-pleaser and stand-up message film that inspires and challenges gender equality then and now.  Someday, a time will come when the blazed trails of women like Billie Jean King will lead to a true level field.  Until then, every measure of respect paid to women is a step toward an acceptance and understanding that should be commonplace.  Make a greater effort, period.  If you’re part of the problem, change your ways.  Teach not only our daughters better, but our sons as well.  The old Lauren Barnholdt axiom says “you have to give respect to get respect.”  Women have been giving of themselves for far too long.  It’s time to pay the respect back.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

MOVIE REVIEW: La La Land

From the street, a baby grand in the middle of a supper club beckons her; the crescendo of a smooth jazz arrangement filling the night air like a clarion call.  She stands and looks at him, mesmerized.  I sit in a dark theater and look at her looking at him, mesmerized.   What happens in the next two hours can only be described as a dizzying spectacle of genuine magic.  A cinematic mish-mash of wondrous set pieces, decorated with a vibrant color palette, lit with appropriate mood lighting, and accompanied by musical numbers ranging from soulful to toe-tapping.  It’s the perfect backdrop in which to watch America’s newest sweethearts pursue their dreams and each other.  This is the City of Stars.  This is La La Land.

I need to be upfront with something.  La La Land was like Hollywood lobbing me a softball the size of a beach ball and giving me a telephone pole to hit it with.  Let’s suffice it to say this film was square in my wheelhouse, so my excitement level was dialed to eleven before I even started the car to head to the theater.  It’s rare to have such high expectations for something and have them met, but as I went into La La Land with five star expectations, I walked out having had a six star experience.

What writer/director Damien Chazelle has crafted here is a pure spectacle in all of the best possible ways.  Culling from the golden age of Hollywood musicals, when Fred twirled Ginger around the soundstage, Chazelle captures the glamour of a bygone era and places it neatly into a modern world. Thankfully, he doesn’t burden it with overproduced glitz (ala Baz Luhrman).  Instead, there is a beauty to these production numbers.  There is a dreamlike quality to most of them; perfect asides that enhance the burgeoning love story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).  When the film does veer into more rambunctious musical territory, as it does with the side bar narrative of Sebastian’s rising career with modern jazz band The Messengers (led by a guitar playing John Legend as lead vocalist Keith), it never feels forced or unnecessary.  It all feels appropriate; keeping us grounded in the now. Just when you allow the magic of old Hollywood to take you away, a well timed cell phone ring or smoke alarm reels you back in.  Getting antsy with all of the jazz?  Here’s an 80’s cover band performance to enjoy. It’s all part of the larger experience. There is a purpose to everything Chazelle does.  

There isn’t really a deep narrative that drives La La Land.  This is a story about dreamers, and the courtship of Mia and Sebastian is purely a means to an end.  The chemistry between Stone and Gosling only serves to enhance the experience of getting there.  Their relationship checks off all of the right boxes as the movie forges on, but everything they experience together as a couple feels natural and never melodramatic.  Chazelle isn’t interested in cliches.  Time is better spent with walks through a deserted studio backlot, or inside a dimly lit nightclub listening to jazz music.  We are invested in this couple.  We want to see them succeed.  So when the time comes where conflict is necessary, it rings true.  And it hurts.

What we ultimately learn from La La Land is that dreams always come with a price.  Perseverance is required, but it comes with a healthy dose of self doubt.  The world will chew you up and spit you out, because it couldn’t care less about your dreams.  Hollywood is the perfect setting for just such a story.  It is a land of dreamers who rarely get the opportunity to do.  And what about sacrifice?  You can’t have it all.  You may one day beat the odds and achieve the success you seek, but it might be at the cost of the fantastic partner who has been by your side the whole time.  The one that believed in you unconditionally might be the one who gets pushed aside; a tragic consequence to the realities of life.  If the dream is the goal, you have to be willing to look back across a crowded nightclub, with a wry smile and a knowing nod, and be okay with what you had to give up to get here.  Here’s to the fools who dream.

 

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STEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and mildly amused by pandas.