Dora and the Lost City of Gold

I am way too old to have memories of Dora the Explorer, but I am unfortunately old enough to have memories of babysitting children who are now teenagers who likely have fond memories of Dora the Explorer. For some reason, I found myself wandering into the theater to watch the live action adaptation of a cartoon for toddlers. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. It is still a movie for kids, this time more for the pre-teen set, kids that still have that naivety of youth and are anticipating/dreading high school. This move is just about perfect for them; both thoroughly fun and entertaining and entirely wholesome.

The first place this movie shines is with its entirely overqualified cast. Saving the kids for a second, this is a movie with spots for Michael Pena, Eva Longoria, Benecio Del Toro and Danny Trejo. These adults all have small roles, but they make the most of their short time. The most meaningful presences there are Pena and Longoria, who play Dora’s parents with a just the right amount of encouragement and concern. Dora, played by Isabella Moner, is the engine that drives this movie. She is perpetually upbeat, but not stupid. The movie does a great job of showing her competence in the jungle before uprooting her for the city and having her look like a doof. Then, it flips it again to put her back in the jungle. The other kids, Diego and two new characters (I guess, I’m not a Dora expert) are pretty fun. Diego is Dora after having the exuberance sanded off by years with the more cynical city folks. Randy is a somewhat dorky everyman, who knows the tropes of the adventure stories Dora riffs on. And Sammy is the classic alpha smart girl, who is simultaneously jealous, dismissive and competitive with Dora. It isn’t anything new or groundbreaking, but it is fun. Finally, there is Eugenio Derbez, who guides/is guided by Dora through the middle portion of the movie. He is not quite incompetent but also not quite adept, and mostly serves as the butt of jokes for the kids.

Some of the most fun parts of Dora are how the movie adapts the specific hallmarks of the show into this live action format. There is a big change of perspective scene near the end that plays with this, but there are also moments throughout that do similar things. Dora’s talking to the camera asking 3 year olds to count to 4 is now her talking to her audience (it is unclear if she actually has one) for youtube videos she is making. Boots the monkey is just a monkey, though he is a horrible CGI creation rather than an actual monkey. Inexplicably, Swiper is a talking CGI fox who just so happens to be working for the bad guys. It is weird, but it somehow works.

The plot is just complex enough. To start with, Dora’s parents are sending her to live with her cousin in civilization after she grew up in the jungle with them, a pair of college educated archaeologist. This is both for her development and because they think they found a lost city and can’t take her with them. So the first act has Dora trying to adapt to live in the big city. Then she loses contact with her parents, and is kidnapped during a trip to the museum. Along with her is her group of not quite friends. From there, they try to find Dora’s parents, escape the dangerous jungle and find the lost city. It nails that Indiana Jones like personal bickering while dealing with external threats tone perfectly. It is really just a fun adventure.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is not going to knock anyone’s socks off. It is a perfectly good movie, especially for adults with kids the age of the intended audience of this movie. It is entertaining enough that they will not be bored and good enough that the kids will hopefully be enthralled. There is something to say about selling nostalgia to progressively younger movie watchers, as usually they are selling the entertainment of youth back to adults, here they are selling memories of babyhood viewing to pre-teens, but I am not the one to talk about that.

***1/2

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Spider-Man Far From Home

I guess I am just not as much of a Spider-Man fan as most people. I like the character well enough, but I didn’t gush over Homecoming like a lot of people did, and I certainly didn’t feel as strong about Into the Spider-Verse as many people. I enjoyed both movies, but I’d be lying if I said they had really stuck in my mind past a week or so. I think I feel the same way about Spider-Man: Far From Home. I liked it well enough; it is a solid entry in the ongoing Marvel saga. It is a coda to the story that wrapped up with Endgame, a movie that furthers Spider-Man’s adventures while dealing somewhat with the aftermath of the big movie.

One thing that is excellent is Tom Holland as Spider-Man. He does a great job of selling him as a teenager trying to do the right thing while being somewhat in over his head. His classmates are all really fun as well. Zendaya’s reveal as being MJ at the end of the last movie was groan inducing, but she is just about perfect as his love interest and eventual ally here. (To be clear: I did not like the end of movie call me MJ moment; Zendaya is great. It is the same problem as with The Dark Knight Rises’ Robin bit at the end. Don’t do that crap; just have the character be the character the whole movie.) Jake Gyllenhal mostly makes Mysterio work, though he remains kind of an empty shell of a character at the end, with his motives and personality largely just gaps that were never filled in.

One thing I haven’t liked with the current iteration of Spider-Man is making him Iron Man’s side-kick. Which is exactly what he has been in every MCU movie so far. The dynamic works well enough; I think DC should take notes for their next Batman movie and any attempt to integrate Robin. But to me it takes away from Spider-Man some. The fact that he is on his own is part of the appeal. Sure, in the comics he gets help from various sources, like the Fantastic Four, but the fact that he was the young hero that was not a side-kick always seemed to me to be a key element of his popularity.

Far From Home pushes Spider-Man’s limits. The first movie was all about Peter accepting his role as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man; this movie pushes him immediately out of that neighborhood. The world has changed since he fought Vulture and Peter has to change with it. I just don’t know that this movie really works on the macro level. Him dealing with the legacy of Tony Stark doesn’t really feel like Peter’s responsibility. It only happens because Tony was apparently a mad man, creating tons of weaponized drones with few safety features. Nick Fury and the agents formerly known as SHIELD are so out of place I thought they were part of Mysterio’s illusion.

Stronger are the parts that deal with Peter’s personal life. His struggles to admit his feelings for MJ and his struggles with keeping his identity secret are both great Spider-Man stuff. That is what I wanted to see more of.

My complaints from a few years ago about MCU movies being all polish and not substance kind of went away for a bit, but that is exactly what this movie feels like. It feels polished to the point where it loses a lot of its personality. I don’t hate, I liked it, but it feels a lot like one of those MCU movies that people are going to forget exists in a few years, only coming up when someone throws is smack dab in the middle of Marvel movie ranking. Bring on the next phase.

***1/2

Tolkien Review

Tolkien is a perfectly fine biopic that tries to do too much and ends up not doing most of it as well as it could have. The movie tells the story of a young JRR Tolkien, up through his experiences in WWI, largely following three threads. The first is the bond Tolkien formed with some of his school friends that last until the first world war. Another is a love story between Tolkien and his lifelong love. Last, the movie spends time with Tolkien’s experience during WWI.

The movie cuts back and forth between a young Tolkien and Tolkien during the war. The bulk of the movie follows Tolkien as he ages from child through his time at university. First, Tolkien and his mother and brother find out that his father has died and they are forced to move from the country to the city. Then, further tragedy strikes as Tolkien’s mother dies. He and his brother go to live as boarders with a rich old woman while they attend school. Another boarder living there is Edith Bratt, who soon forms a connection with Tolkien. After an initially rough time fitting in, Tolkien also forms close bonds with a trio of other boys at school, forming what they call a fellowship that lasts even when they go to seperate universities.

Interspersed with Tolkien growing up are scenes of Tolkien in the trenches of WW1. He is suffering from an illness, and looking for his friend Geoffrey Smith. Smith has stopped responding to letters, and Tolkien is afraid he might have been killed. So he treks across the front looking for him, followed by his batman, a Private named Sam. Tolkien frequently nearly collapsed, and has fantastical hallucinations.

While good, the movie bit off a little more than it could chew. There is likely a really entertaining version of this movie that focuses on the romance, or on Tolkien’s love of languages, or on his connections with his school friends. This one tries to do all of those things, and ends up shortchanging most of them. The only one that comes across truly strongly is him with his childhood friends. They call themselves the TCBS, the Tea Club and Barrovian Society. Still, even with that thread it struggles to give clarity to the relationships between the boys. While it does manage to differentiate the boys, the focus on them shifts making it hard to get a read on them at times.

The romance feels truncated, but it works. It helps that Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins are both great. It does a good job of showing why they would connect, but it does a lesser job of bridging things after the inevitable struggles happen. The WWI stuff is the clumsiest part of the movie, mostly because tries the hardest to connect his experiences to the Lord of the Rings.

The Middle Earth books are the specter that hovers over this movie, even if it doesn’t cover the part of Tolkien’s life when he wrote those stories, other than in a coda near the end. It tries too hard to relate all of Tolkien’s experiences to what he would later write in his stories. Some of it works, it only makes sense that writer’s experiences would influence his works, but it frequently tries too hard. His visions and hallucinations during the war are the most egregious example.

Tolkien is more good than bad. It isn’t anything world changing or amazing. It is simply a solidly executed, well shot and well acted, biopic.

***1/2

Fighting With My Family

I am not the world’s biggest wrestling fan. I’m not much of a fan of wrestling at all, to be honest. I am conversant in the subject, but other than a few months in 2001 or so, I’ve never really watched or cared about wrestling. I get the appeal, but it was never something that stuck with me. While Fighting With My Family is a wrestling movie, and at times takes the viewers knowledge of wrestling a little bit for granted, it is not a movie that requires the viewer to be a wrestling fan. This is a pretty well executed sports biopic, wherein the sport just happens to be wrestling. Where is truly succeeds is not in the fighting from the title, but the family.

Fighting With My Family tells the story of WWE Champion Paige, real name Saraya or just Raya, and how she came to win the title, focusing on her relationship with her family, especially on her relationship with her brother Zac. It opens with the two of them fighting, only for their parents not breaking up the fight, but instructing them on how to fight better. The two of them grow up participating in their parent’s regional wrestling association. They also train neighborhood kids who want to be wrestlers. When they get invited to WWE tryouts, it is Raya who goes on, while Zak is not chosen. So the newly christened Paige goes to Florida to train and join the WWE’s developmental league NXT, while Zak stays home and stews in his perceived failure. The two both struggle with how to move on from this.

The movie is directed by Steven Merchant, who you might know from his work on The Office or Extras or playing Caliban in Logan. You can feel his touch in the films comedic moments. The comedy is what really makes this worth watching. The world of wrestling is a slightly unreal place, even when you go behind the scenes and look at the real people behind it. There is a circus atmosphere to it. Playing it completely straight would be a disaster, but Merchant leans into the ridiculousness, without ever making the wrestling itself seem like the ridiculous part. It helps that the cast is rock solid, which is not an intention reference to The Rock, who has what is essentially an extended cameo in this movie. Florence Pugh plays Paige with equal parts strength and vulnerability. Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) plays Zak and his desperation to succeed is palpable. The parents are Nick Frost, who is delightfully chummy, and Lena Headey who seems to be having fun as well. The last big name is Vince Vaughn, who plays the man heading up NXT and gives his usual glib charm to the tough training coach.

The movie doesn’t shy away from the Knight family’s fairly low class status; they are outsiders even in their hometown. They struggle with money and the law. But it also shows them as a loving family and how they work to help each other and the neighbors. Zak’s training with the local youngsters keeps them out of trouble and their parent’s really seem to want what is best for their kids.

Fighting With My Family is a perfectly enjoyable movie; it isn’t really going to surprise anyone or make any top ten lists, but it is a decent little comic drama that is well worth seeing.

***1/2

On the Basis of Sex

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is absolutely a person who deserves a biopic made about her. I only wish that a slightly better one had been made. On the Basis of Sex isn’t bad, but it is so predictable. You know the beats the movie is going to hit pretty much as soon as it starts, not as a product of being familiar with history but because On the Basis of Sex’s beats are the same as any inspirational biopic. The initial hurdles, the successes and setbacks that all build up to a triumph where she realizes her ambitions; it has all been done before. Still, On the Basis of Sex is a fine movie about an important and heroic figure that never surprises or surpasses expectations.

On the Basis of Sex follows the future Supreme Court Justice from when she entered Harvard Law School to the early stages of her fight legal equality between women and men. The movie details her struggles in law school, with the inherent sexism of Harvard and its faculty and her husbands bought with cancer. It then follows her difficulty in finding employment as an attorney before settling in as a law professor and then finding the right case to pursue sex discrimination in the courts.

Everything is drawn somewhat broadly, as biopics often do. One encounter is there to stand in for a pattern of behavior, so that one encounter must hit all the points. Or the pattern is pointed out in dialogue. Sometimes these moments are worked smoothly into the course of the film, sometimes they fit in awkwardly. Some of the law school moments establish an effective pattern, Ginsburg explaining all of her bad interviews to an interviewer in what turns out to be another bad interview is a bit much.

Still, the movie hits the highlights of the story quite well. It tells its story just fine. The best part is its portrayal of the Ginsburg’s marriage. They are a fine partnership. A lot of that has to do with the performances of Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer. Jones infuses Ginsburg with this quiet fierceness, letting you see her sharp intellect and occasionally sharp tongue while still seeing how her struggles get to her. Then there is Hammer as her eternally supportive husband. A lot of his support comes merely from his recognizing her talents in a way others in their profession refuse to. The rest of the cast is filled with excellent players do the best with their small parts. The movie has a scene or two for Kathy Bates, Sam Waterston, Justin Theroux and Stephen Root. They all acquit themselves well in parts that don’t leave a lot of room for them to work.

As a current law student, the moot court practice gave me terrifying flashbacks. From the odd formal beginning to the pointed questions that seem to exist just to throw you off your game. A lot of the details of Ginsburg time in law school rang especially true, even though her time in law school was about fifty years ago.

On the Basis of Sex is fine. It is everything one would expect from a biopic and nothing else. It feels a little disappointing, but this is a year where Bohemian Rhapsody, which is outright bad outside of the music and a performance or two, got nominated for Best Picture. On the Basis of Sex could certainly have been worse.

***1/2

Creed II

The first Creed was an excellent passing of the torch for the Rocky series. It kept the history of the long running series while opening up a lot of avenues for the future. It also helped that it was just a damn good sports movie, like the original Rocky, a movie were the sport is the focus, the heart of the movie is its characters. Adonis Creed was a nearly perfect new protagonist. As successful as the first movie was, a sequel was almost inevitable. While Creed II can’t match the first movie in any regard, it still manages to deliver a very entertaining movie that stands on its own.

The movie follows the very obvious next point for the son of Apollo Creed; it brings back the Rocky IV connection and has Adonis fight the son of Ivan Drago, the man who killed his father. The plot pulls a lot of notes from the first three Rocky sequels, telling its own story of fathers and their children. Adonis reaches the top and has to find out if he has what it takes to stay there or if he even wants to. This movie revolves around father and child pairings. You have the relationship, or lack thereof, between Adonis and Apollo. You have the surrogate father son relationship between Rocky and Adonis. There is Rocky and his strained relationship his son. Then there is Adonis and his newborn child. Finally, there are the Dragos, who also have unique relationship.

I don’t know that it is breaking any new narrative ground, but the fathers here have to make decisions about what is important to them. It is a decision that Apollo made when he fought Ivan Drago way back in Rocky IV. Now the fathers here face similar choices. Drago is trying to find his lost glory by training his son to fight in his place. Rocky, beaten down by life can’t sit by while Adonis makes the same choices as his father and can’t bring himself to reach out to his own son.

Thing is, it is still a boxing movie. It opens with Adonis fighting for the title, and then falls into the familiar refrain of a new challenger arising and Adonis having to find new strength to take him on. The movie still centers on the relationship between Adonis and Bianca. They are well rounded characters and thanks in large to excellent performances by Michael B Jordan and Tessa Thompson, they feel like real people. Bianca does get a little lost this time, she has her moments but doesn’t get enough to do.

The movie does rely a little too much on the past of the series. This is as much a sequel to Rocky IV as it is to Creed. Rocky IV was the bombastic peak of the series, the movie that went the biggest and most ridiculous. This movie tries to bring that bombast back down to something human. It mostly works, but jumping to this story seems a bit much coming from the largely very grounded Creed. For most of the movie Ivan Drago is the same cartoon villain that he was before. The tone from Rocky IV is not a great fit here and while the movie does its best to avoid it some of that creeps in.

What the movie lacks is just the filmmaking audacity and excitement of Creed. It plays exactly like you’d expect it play. It hits the familiar beats and in the ways you’d expect. I don’t mean to say there isn’t anything unexpected in the plot, only that the pacing follows very familiar tone and structure. It isn’t bad, it just lacks the spark that made Creed feel so fresh and special. Basically what I am saying the movie misses the touch of Coogler.

Creed II is a slightly disappointing follow up to Creed, but it is a solid addition to the Rocky series. It lacks originality, but it makes up for by simply being an effective execution of a formula. At its best, Creed II can be marvelously affecting. The ending alone makes it worth seeing.

***1/2

The House With a Clock in its Walls

I know this movie is based on a book, but I am not familiar with that book. So fans forgive me when I say that The House with a Clock in its Walls is better than it has any right to be. The movie doesn’t really look like anything great; it mostly looks like a second rate Harry Potter knock-off. Luckily, watching it I realized that it is much more than that; The House with a Clock in its Walls feels like nothing less than an update on the Amblin movies of the 80’s and early 90’s that have been largely absent for the last decade and a half (I know Super 8 exists).

After the death of his parents, young Lewis Barnavelt has to move in with his eccentric uncle. His uncle soon reveals himself to be a warlock, or as Lewis repeatedly calls him a boy witch. By some accounts he is a good warlock, in the sense that he is not evil, though he is not particularly adept at magic. However, his neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, is a strong sorceress. Uncle Jonathan starts to teach the awkward Lewis to do magic, while searching his odd house for the clock the previous owner left there somewhere that is counting down to something ominous. Soon, Lewis joins the efforts to stop the clock from triggering its cataclysmic countdown.

The performances are kind of uneven. Cate Blanchett is delightful as Mrs. Zimmerman, though way overqualified for this movie. The same goes for Kyle MacLachlan, who is bother overqualified and underused as the undead villain. Jack Black is near perfect as Uncle Jonathan. He brings a sense of wonderfully playful weirdness; it makes him perfectly believable as the slightly incompetent Jonathan. Then there are the kids. I don’t want to crap on young actors, but Owen Vaccaro has some rough moments as Lewis. He’s not really bad, but he isn’t quite up to shouldering all that the movie puts on him. Sunny Suljic, playing his new friend Tarby, is likewise nothing more than fine. This is a movie where kids have to do a lot of the heavy lifting and the kid actors are merely adequate, especially compared to the adults.

The film isn’t perfect. While it does a lot of good work with practical effects, or at least digital effects good enough to appear to be practical, there are some really dodgy shots in the last act that seem out of place. Some of the character beats don’t quite land, and some seem like the meat of them got left on the cutting room floor.

Altogether, the movie is interesting. It is not afraid to leave the sadness and loss in there that a lot of children’s movies don’t really dwell on. Lewis has lost his parents and is having trouble dealing with that trauma. As well meaning as Uncle Jonathan is, he is still kind of bumbling and not really prepared to help this kid through his problems. Mrs. Zimmerman is similarly broken over the loss of her family. That loss plays into the the villain’s plan, whose losses in life have broken him and now he has embraced nihilism.

The House With a Clock in its Walls feels like a throwback to movies that came out when I was a youngster. Movies like The Goonies or Gremlins or *batteries not included. This isn’t quite as good as those movies, but it is certainly fine kids movie.

***1/2

Ocean’s 8 Review

Ocean’s 8 is the perfect summer movie; a spritely and buoyant delight that is fun throughout. It almost exactly, and certainly deliberately, follows in the footsteps of Ocean’s 11 and while at times it feels something like a pale imitation, it largely manages to carve out its own identity next to its classic sibling. While it doesn’t really break any new ground, it executes a fun formula well and lets a lot of fun performers show off.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, the sister of Danny Ocean, who has just gotten out of prison and has an idea for a heist, as the Oceans tend to do, and maybe for revenge on the man who set her up and sent her to jail. She meets up with the partner, in crime at the very least, Lou (Cate Blanchett) and goes about assembling her team to steal the Tousssiant, a diamond necklace worth 150 million dollars.

It mostly goes along the usual heist formula. It introduces all the players in their elaborate plot, giving each a chance to show off her skills. The plot mostly involves getting a celebrity to borrow the necklace to wear it to the Met Gala, where they can steal it. The biggest part of the plan involves recruiting fashion designer Rose Weil, who gets hired to design the dress for Anne Hathaway’s Daphne Kluger. Kluger is not in on the heist and her unwitting participation is one of the most delightful elements of the movie.

The other members are fun, if somewhat underutilized. Wanting to see more of Rihanna, Awkwafina, and Mindy Kaling makes the idea that this might be the start of a series a promising prospect. The most underused member of the cast is almost certainly Sarah Paulson as a fence who is also a suburban housewife with a shocking awway of skills. This crew deserves to push the series back up to 11.

Then there is the heist, which goes off without much of hitch, though it is still tense and delightful watching it all play out. As these things do, the movie keeps certain elements of the plot from the viewers until they happen, letting it be a surprise as it all comes together. Sometimes these late coming twists can sour the experience, but here each works perfectly. I don’t want to spoil the best ones.

It isn’t quite as good as last year’s Logan Lucky, but it still completely fun and enjoyable. It has a great cast and a glitzy look and keeps the action moving. It is a little derivative and familiar, but Ocean’s 8 is also so much fun.

****1/2

Game Night

At first glance, Game Night looks like any number of middling comedies that have come out over the last decade. It takes a good high concept and throws together a group entertaining performers in hopes of making something resembling a movie. Game Night, though, actually is really good. It isn’t perfect, but it has some really great performers, a twisty, funny script and it is shot with more care than is usual for comedies.

Game Night stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, who are both a lot of fun, as married couple Max and Annie. Bateman excels at playing the put upon voice of reason and that is mostly where he is here. Here he is competent, but also over competitive. McAdams as great as his similar wife. They play off of each other well. There are joined on their game night by their dimwitted buddy Ryan, his intelligent date, married childhood sweethearts Kevin and Michelle. Those four have their moments, feeling like at least conceivable friends. They are joined by Max’s successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who tries to spice things up. Left out of game night is Max and Annie’s neighbor, the recently divorced Gary, played by Jesse Plemons. Brook’s invites the group to his house, where he has hired actors for a fake kidnapping mystery game. Unbeknownst to the group, that is interrupted by an actual kidnapping. The couples go their separate ways to solve things.

It works surprisingly well. At first they all think it is a game, but eventually they start to realize that things are more real than they thought. The movie does a great job of keeping the viewer in their toes as well, as what seems real might not be as real as they seem or make fake parts aren’t as fake as they seem. All the players do their part, though Bateman’s deadpan and McAdams enthusiasm do a lot of the work in getting jokes across. The best part is Jesse Plemons, who underplays everything as Gary. He come across as genuinely creepy. It is hard to tell if he is just depressed because of his divorce or planning something sinister. It all pays off in the best way.

I’m not an expert on shooting movies, but even I can tell the difference between the usual comedy and what is seen in Game Night. Maybe it’s bad that the movie has shots that stand out, but they stood out to me in a good way, enhancing my enjoyment of the movie. There are a handful of distant establishing shots that almost look like models, like they are all pieces on a gameboard, before the camera zooms in on the action. There is also a chase scene through a mansion that at least looks like an impressive long take as the various characters run up and down stairways. The movie really looks good.

I wouldn’t call Game Night great. There is a decent chance I won’t remember I saw it come the end of the year. But it is better than even my somewhat high hopes had expected. It it definitely worth hitting a matinee for or grabbing from the Redbox in few months.

***1/2

Battle of the Sexes

I don’t know that I expected to like Battle of the Sexes more than I did, but I certainly hoped I would. It is okay, but I thought maybe it could be really good.  Battle of the Sexes is about the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, but it is also about Billie Jean’s personal life, the founding of what would become the WTA and a little about Bobby Riggs. These are all worthwhile stories, but the movie spreads itself a little thin trying to tell all of them and ends up not really telling them all that well.

The Bobby Riggs part of the movie is pretty stunted.  Steve Carell does a great job, playing a fading gambling addict who is just trying to maintain some relevance in a world that is leaving him behind.  There is something irrepressibly comical about him, both when he is being disgustingly sexist and when he is playing games in the living room with his son.  While he is a player in this story, this movie is not his story and it probably shouldn’t be.  But the movie gives just enough of a look into him to leave you wanting more, in a bad way.  After that scene of him playing with his son, we don’t see that son again.  We do meet another, older son who gets a little bit of a story, but he never really amounts to anything as a character.

The movie opens with Billie Jean and Gladys Heldman arranging a boycott of a tennis tournament that pays the male winners 12 times what the female winners get.  They, along with a handful of other women player’s, start what in a few years would become the WTA.  That in itself is likely enough to sustain a movie, but it just sort of happens over the first twenty minutes or so of this movie.  It opens a lot of interesting avenues and leaves them completely unexplored.

The main thrust of the movie, before the central tennis match actually starts to happen, is Billie Jean’s unexpected romance with her hairdresser. It is very unexpected because she is happily married.  That gets the bulk of the movie’s time and is a story worth telling. But unless I am misreading, it is also the subplot that is least on theme. Her husband is possibly the only male figure in this movie that isn’t awful.  He is supportive of King and his interactions with Marilyn, her lover, are more about warning her off to prevent her from disrupting King’s focus, noting that for their mutual love tennis comes first. It other than giving King something else to worry about, it doesn’t really play into the match from which this movie gets its name.

Battle of the Sexes is definitely worth seeing. Emma Stone is excellent as King and Carell is good as Riggs.  The movie is just overwhelmingly pleasant.  It is fun to watch, even as the issues it deals with remain issues 40 years later.  But this movie feels a little like a missed opportunity, like it was close to being just a little bit better and truly memorable.

***1/2