Battle of the Sexes (2017)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Battle of the Sexes</strong> (2017)

(Netflix Streaming, September 2018) Five or ten years ago, I would have naively dismissed Battle for the Sexes’ lack of subtlety, its ham-fisted moral values and its obvious plotting. In resurrecting a 1973 TV spectacle pitting an older male player to a younger female one, the movie gleefully gets to recreate the social arguments of the time, not only discussing second-wave feminism (cleanly associating male chauvinism with grifting, laziness, and a bit of anti-Semitism) but also throwing in an LGBTQ feel-good bromide along the way. But looking at the resurgence of reactionary sentiment in (North-) American society in the past few years, I’m done with naïve cynicism—no amount of repeating the basics of human decency is enough and if that means going back to basics and calling a male chauvinist pig a male chauvinist pig, then so be it. It does help that Emma Stone is effortlessly charming at Billy Jean King, facing off a Steve Carrell who commits himself fully to the role of a sexist opportunist. The plot is familiar, the caricature of the antagonist is underlined twice to make sure we can’t possibly misunderstand the stakes, and the morals are obvious to anyone who doesn’t wear a red cap in their leisure time. Still, the period feel is convincing, the film does score a few comic highlights, Alan Cumming has one of his most Allan-Cummingest roles to date (complete with a “Hear that, 2017?” coda) and the entire thing is entertaining enough to watch. If Battle for the Sexes feels a bit too on-the-nose, then it may mean that there’s still work to do.

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