BATTLE OF THE SEXES (UK / USA / 12A / 121 mins)
Directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Starring Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman.
THE PLOT: It’s the 1970s in America and equality between men and women is still something to be fought for, including in the sporting arena. Ace women’s tennis champion Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) objects to the fact that men are paid 8 times as much as women to compete. Tennis sporting body representative and commentator Jack (Bill Pullman) thinks it’s just biology and that women can’t handle the pressure. Along with friend Gladys (Sarah Silverman) and other female tennis stars, Billy Jean forms a female splinter group which causes ructions in tennis circles. This draws the attention of showman Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), the men’s champion who wants to put the show back in chauvinism. He challenges her to a battle of the sexes on the court. That is, if she can keep her nerve… THE VERDICT: Occasionally, a film about another generation comes along which isn’t so much about the past but is really about the present. Given recent discussions on gender pay equality in the film industry, with Emma Stone asking her male co-stars to take the same salary as her, it could also be viewed as a wry commentary on the more things change, the more they stay the same. However, let’s not read too much into it, for that would spoil what is an entertaining sports film fronted by two charismatic characters.
Husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame make good use of Simon Beaufoy’s fine script, setting up these two opposing forces early on. Billy Jean is fleshed out well, making her not so much a firebrand but someone who is clearly unhappy about the sexist attitudes in the tennis world. As she simply points out to Bobby at one point, she’s a tennis player who happens to be a woman. Nothing more. Why should that be regarded as different? The film also explores her developing attraction to hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), sensitively depicted with a more modern touch.
Bobby, on the other hand, is rich but hobbled by a gambling addiction. Supremely confident in himself and his abilities, he outwardly plays the part of a chauvinist but has his own insecurities. Carell is spot-on casting here, making Bobby likeable despite his attitudes. There’s a nice onscreen rapport between Stone and Carell, less like enemies and more like professional rivals who might just be evenly matched on the court. The witty script moves deftly between comedy and drama, with the high stakes involving so much more than winning a trophy. Even if the outcome isn’t a huge surprise, it’s still a tense enough watch as the duo duke it out on the court.
So, it’s game, set, match for ‘Battle Of The Sexes’. It’s smart, funny, light, enlightening and even thought-provoking. In the battle of the tennis films this year, ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ clearly beats ‘Borg vs McEnroe’. RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
SUBURBICON (UK | USA/15A/105mins) Directed by George Clooney. Starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Nancy Daly, Karimah Westbrook. THE PLOT: After a home invasion goes wrong and his wife is killed, Gardener (Matt Damon) allows his sister in law to move into his home to care for his young son. As time goes on however, Gardener’s carefully ordered world in the quiet suburb of Suburbicon begins to fall apart, when money owed is not paid and uncomfortable questions are asked. Meanwhile, an African-American family has moved unto the area, whose presence seems to be upsetting for the rest of the residents. THE VERDICT: Directed by George Clooney, and written by the Coen Brothers, ‘Suburbicon’ is the story of a seemingly perfect US suburban neighbourhood, and the darkness that goes on behind closed doors. The idea of the white family being the ones causing instability, but the black family being perceived as the source of trouble is an interesting one, but as with much of the film, the lack of balance throughout throws this into a troublesome area.
Matt Damon leads the cast as Gardener Lodge, and although it is clear that Damon is well able for the role, it is hard not to imagine director George Clooney taking on the character and injecting it with a bit more fun and a bit more incredulity at the situation he has fund himself in. Julianne Moore seems to be having a little more fun as the uptight but dangerous Margaret, whose presence in the house is one that throws it into turmoil, but it is Oscar Isaac in a small role as claims investigator, that is obviously having the time of his life, and he brings some much needed heightened comedy and farce to the film. Such a shame that he is gone too soon. The rest of the cast features Steve Monroe, Noah Jupe – who is a wonderful find – Nancy Daly, Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke, Mather Zickel and Vince Cefalu.
The screenplay, written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney and Grant Heslov, feels remarkably political, which seems to take the edge off the farcical feel of the film, which tries to fight its way back in the final act, but somehow ends up feeling shoehorned in, rather than intentional. The dialogue is strong, however, and the mystery is carefully unravelled throughout the film, but in trying to make ‘Suburbicon’ a thriller set in the late 1950s, the screenplay struggles against the inevitable farcical and comedic feel of a film about insurance fraud and murder in a perfect suburb.
As director, George Clooney heightens the world of the film rather well, but never truly manages to marry the feel of thriller and comedy that the film is so desperately trying to create. The performances are strong, the dialogue cleverly delivered, and there are some moments of pure comedic genius, but these are fleeting, and few and far between.
In all, ‘Suburbicon’ is an enjoyable tale of money, deception and love, but the tone of the film is never quite right, meaning that strong performances and a political message eventually fall flat. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
DADDY’S HOME 2 (USA / PG / 99 mins) Directed by Sean Anders. Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jon Lithgow, Linda Cardellini, John Cena. THE PLOT: Having bumped heads in the previous film, doting dads Brad (Will Ferrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) have gone progressive. They’ve got the co-parenting thing down to a T. Instead of staying apart this Christmas, they’ve decided to all stay together and have a grand old time. There’s double trouble this time though, as their own dads are coming too – Dusty’s macho skirt-chaser Kurt (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s simpering old man Don (Jon Lithgow). Dusty hasn’t seen Kurt for four years, a fact that grates on his nerves, while it’s only been four weeks since Brad and Don last saw each other. Friction occurs, so can they all keep the Christmas spirit and just get along? THE VERDICT: Given that the first ‘Daddy’s Home’ was mediocre at best, why on Earth is a sequel being inflicted on us? It appears to have made enough money to warrant a follow-up, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ is essentially more of the same, but with some added chaos to make it worse. Much worse. Brad is still as useless as ever, but you can’t blame him when he’s subjected to feeble jokes like getting stuck in a voice-activated shower. Dusty is trying to get in touch with his feminine side and be less aggressive. The kids are smarter than everyone else, of course.
The one good element here is Gibson, who is clearly having the most fun. He brings a keen sensibility to his character and reminds us again of his talent for comedy. Between his performance in this, Blood Father and his fine directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge, it looks like his Hollywood comeback is complete. Welcome back from the wilderness Mel – we missed you. The less said about the rest of the cast the better. They all look bored, as if they want a word with their agent fast. The script is so poor that it wouldn’t even pass muster for a sitcom.
A key sequence of the film bears the most scrutiny. The two families and others are snowbound at a cinema (being the only place to go on Christmas Day in America). After a prompt from Brad, they all get down with a tuneless rendition of Do They Know It’s Christmas. Meanwhile, cinema staff toss out snacks to the hungry families. It’s been said that Americans don’t understand irony and that’s true here, given the whole purpose of the classic Band Aid song. It’s all done in rather bad taste.
Apart from these huge flaws, ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ makes the fatal mistake of being unfunny. Beyond a mere chuckle at Kurt’s one-liners, there’s little here to tickle the funny bone. It’s the kind of Christmas film that gives Christmas films a bad name. It’s a true turkey in every sense of the word. ‘Daddy’s Home 3’? Let’s ask Santa Claus to make sure it never happens. RATING: 1 / 5 Review by Gareth O’Connor