Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Battle of the Tennis Movies

LaBeouf and Gudnason.
TIFF just opened its doors and premiered with the anticipated Borg/McEnroe with Hollywood's favorite bad boy de jour Shia LaBeouf as the favorite bad boy of tennis John McEnroe, and newcomer (at least to American Cinema) Sverrir Gudnason as Björn Borg; the machine. This film (bio-pic what have you) is about the 1980 Wimbeldon match. The first Wimbeldon and Borg in his record-breaking 5th. It was perhaps the most important match of 21 year old's McEnroe's career and just so happened to be the first out of the gate. He was the only thing standing between Borg and a record of 5 straight Singles Men's Wimbeldon wins. This is all before McEnroe started a reputation of yelling at referees, throwing rackets, and just turning the whole sport into a spectacle. Don't get me wrong, he's talented AF, so the spectacle was still one hell of a sport to watch when McEnroe was playing it. That's perhaps why LaBeouf was cast. Perhaps they are kindred spirits. The film premiered a few nights ago, and LaBeouf received almost universal praise for his portrayal of the tennis legend even though he looked nothing like him nor really played tennis.  

The real Borg and McEnroe minutes before their showdown. Costume and makeup are going to get major props for this. 
LaBeouf is a damn good actor (as tired as that hyperbole is), and yeah I said it so you know where I stand. I haven't seen the film yet, but I'm optimistic as hell. Everything about it looks like those great sports movies that used to exist in the 80's before Disney had to go fuck it all up; one word - Miracle
The only person that didn't praise his performance was the man himself, shocker. But I also want to see if Sverrir was any good and coming from a Swedish/Icelandic background I'm sure he's a machine, much like Borg. But what I really want to touch on and provide a good segway into the next film is the idea of sports films. In the 80's you had really great sports films; from Chariots of Fire (which started the trend), to The Natural, to Hoop Dreams, to Breaking Away.  It all climaxed with Field of Dreams, and then it all went to shit. And my generation was stuck with crap like Blue Crush, Hot Shots! and fucking Varsity Blues. What the hell happened there? I'm not big into sports but my god. Yeah, have a protagonists perhaps two and make it about the primal struggle which is basically what sports is. It's about winning and losing, no philosophy, no fuss. Just simple human competition. That's drama right there. I believe that these two films are going to restore that void that's been missing in cinema. Some sports moments last forever. One of which that I'm sure everyone has heard about is the Miracle on Ice in 1980 when team USA beat the Soviet Union in the Olympics. Basically accomplishing the impossible hence the term 'miracle on ice'. Thanks Disney for ruining it for a generation that never got to live through that or experience the actual brilliance of that moment. (I didn't live through it either, but I've seen the actual footage and it was way more intense and dramatic).

The media was right there capturing every insane moment leading up to the Battle of the Sexes.
Anyway! Speaking of another thing I didn't live through (I was born in '85, ok gimme a break, I'm not that old, but I do know my history) was the Battle of the Sexes. It was a tennis match, and that's what they called it. It is also being screened at TIFF and stars Emma Stone (whatever) as feminist icon and tremendous tennis player Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs; the has-been, outlandish and flamboyant champion from a million years ago pinned in a battle of man vs. woman, which really did turn the game into a spectacle when he challenged the former to a tennis match in 1973 basically to make an extra buck and draw attention to himself. Billie Jean King reluctantly accepted, and Bobby Riggs would not stop spouting chauvinist rhetoric at her just to get people's ire up. Billie Jean King was in her prime, and with an actual battle of the sexes going on in society at the time, this tennis match drew a great deal of attention and King's inevitable victory meant a great deal to the American feminist movement. She went from icon to legend. I'm not sure if Emma Stone is the best casting, but unlike Shia LaBeouf, the original that she was portraying gave her a wonderful review.

The real Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs posing for a publicity still. 
I'm excited for both films. I feel like Battle of the Sexes is going to be more of a politically skewed film that deals with the zeitgeist of the times and heavily pushes the second wave of feminism movement of that period, and Borg/McEnroe is going to be a much darker psychological exploration of athleticism and dreams; accomplished and broken. Both sound great to me and I'm really stoked. 
Another film that may redeem the genre is the upcoming Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan biopic; I, Tonya starring Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, which I actually did live through. And I really can't wait for that one because when that whole shit went down, I was actually a figure skater myself. Granted I was 8, but I never lost interest in the sport. If a film can make you fall in love with a sport that you otherwise don't care about, they've done their job. 

Trailers for both films below: 

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