Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris‘s The Battles of the Sexes (opening today) is fine as far as it goes. And I’m not saying “fine” as a dodge. It really is an acceptable, good-enough thing.
During my one-and-only Telluride viewing I never once said to myself “this isn’t working” or “why isn’t this better?” I was engaged in the true story as far as it went. I never felt bored or irked. Okay, perhaps a little let down when I began to realize that it wouldn’t be delivering any big knockout moments and that it was basically an acceptable, competently made sports drama with five or six good scenes. But I was always “with” it. No checking the watch, no bathroom breaks.
I wasn’t knocked out by Emma Stone‘s performance as tennis great Billie Jean King, but neither was I disappointed. I believed her; she’s fine. Ditto Steve Carell‘s performance as the occasionally clownish, gambling-addicted Bobby Riggs. Honestly? The performance that touched me the most was Austin Stowell‘s as Billie Jean’s husband, Larry, who shows grace and kindness as he realizes that his marriage is on the downslope due to his wife’s emerging sexuality, and that there’s nothing to be done about it.
Nobody at Telluride was over the moon about Battle of the Sexes, and a few were underwhelmed. But nobody put it down either. There’s nothing wrong with a film that rates a solid 7.5 or thereabouts. I wish more films were as moderately satisfying. I am not damning with faint praise here. Not every worthwhile film has to be brilliant.