Friday, 15 September 2017

Battle of the Sexes

Editor's Note:

Dawn and The Husband will be spending the next few days attending the Toronto International Film Festival, known to the locals as TIFF. As rookie attendees, they realize there is a great deal to learn and a great deal to know. They have selected a modest number of films (5) as their initiation into TIFF with hopes that perhaps this learning experience will lead to a more comprehensive schedule in future years. TIFF is also serving as a tremendous distraction from the world's ills, the impending High Holidays, and hurricanes named for Jewish uncles and aunts. The next several posts will focus on TIFF and offer very quick bullet point reviews for the movies seen. Plan your Oscar ballots appropriately.

If you are interested in the first four posts from this series, you can read them here, here, here, and here.

  • Today was our final day at TIFF and while the festival is winding down, the crowds on King Street haven't abated all that much. Maybe it is because it is Friday and there are still two more days for movie lovers to get their fix, or maybe it is because it is a stunning Friday evening in the entertainment district and the cafes and patios are packed with Torontonians aching for those last gasps of summer. Or maybe it is because of the movie shoot across the street from our building that is impeding both foot and car traffic. Whatever the reason, we have been truly impressed with our rookie season at TIFF. I have been fairly vocal in this space on previous occasions as to why we generally don't like the modern movie-going experience. While we both are cinephiles at heart, the constant chatter, eating, phone conversations, and generally rude public behaviour has pushed us towards iTunes, Netflix, and other On-Demand services. There is little of that anti-social behaviour from TIFF audiences aside from a few industry insiders who have obviously forgotten what public screenings are for. There really is nothing like viewing a movie on the big screen. It was what they were made for. I had forgotten and I am thrilled that TIFF brought us back to our roots.
  • Today's film, Battle of the Sexes is our third out of five that features a same-sex romance at its core. This is just a statement of plain fact and I can't tell you how happy it makes me at how nonplussed every single audience member was. There is an almost mainstream feel to it, as it always should have been. I remember vividly the ocean of ink spilled about big-name actors signing on to appear in Philadelphia or whether or not Brokeback Mountain was a legitimate Oscar contender due to its "mature" subject matter. The three movies we saw this year didn't really care. They just presented love as love in all its iterations and it was truly beautiful.
  • Battle of the Sexes was our filler film. I couldn't get tickets to another we wanted, so this was our fallback. It tells the story of the classic tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs that took place in front of a worldwide TV audience of over 90 million viewers. I was almost eleven years old at the time and I vividly recall watching Billie Jean kick Bobby's ass. That bit of information does not require a spoiler alert. It is historical fact and one of the great moments for the women's movement of the 1970s. Billie Jean King was already a feminist icon for her battles for Title IX and the pioneering of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) in order to bring women's tennis prize money in line with their male counterparts. She was and still remains a role model for young girls and women everywhere for her never give in mentality and her philosophy that women could do anything to which they set their minds. This movie is certainly an homage to her and to the struggles that are still facing women in the public eye today. Here's a story to illustrate my point. At the Rio Olympics last summer, a reporter interviewing tennis gold medalist Andy Murray said: “You’re the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals. That’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?” To which Mr. Murray rightly replied: "Male player. I think Venus and Serena [Williams] have won about four each." 
  • Battle of the Sexes is a very "Hollywood" film. That isn't to say it's not worthy, but rather it is merely formulaic. The acting is excellent. Emma Stone is terrific as Billie Jean King and her vulnerability is a real asset in the role. She also had to learn how to play tennis apparently, but when you have Billie Jean King as a coach I suppose you could do worse. Steve Carell is every bit the buffoon as Bobby Riggs, but he also brings a great deal of pathos to the part that almost makes the cartoonish and very narcissistic Riggs likable. The acting transcends the weaknesses in the direction and the editing and makes the film eminently enjoyable.
  • I watched Battle of the Sexes with a very jaded eye but I did enjoy it. I will admit that if we hadn't seen it at TIFF, we probably would have waited for On Demand or streaming services. It is just a bit too mainstream for my liking. I was much more in tune with the real-life throwback footage of Howard Cosell and the incredibly chauvinistic way he called the match, even going so far as to say that Billie Jean was "walking around the court like a man." I had no memory of that. I was also fascinated at the battles off the court that were won by these incredibly brave individuals who redefined women's sports. Dawn and The Husband's recommendation for this film: Two middling YUPS. ends our time at TIFF 2017. This was definitely an experience we will repeat. We learned a lot and saw some great movies. As a matter of fact, I saw more films in a theatre in this one week than I have all year. There are some who have become disenchanted or disillusioned with how corporate and slick TIFF has become and there is some merit to those criticisms, but for pure movie fun, it was a hoot.

Shabbat Shalom to all who observe and for those celebrating the upcoming Yamim Noraim, Shana Tova U'metukah. May the upcoming year be a sweet one, a healthy one, and one of peace. 

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