Sunday, 3 December 2017

Cinema Scent: Battle Of The Sexes (dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris; 2017)


Did someone say Yardley? During a key sequence in Battle Of The Sexes - a well-constructed account not just of Billie Jean King’s match against Bobby Riggs, but also of her struggles with her own sexuality - the women on the newly-formed WTA are treated to a pre-press-junket hairstyle makeover. King (played by Emma Stone) takes her seat, is approached by her hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough, as excellent and underused as ever) and suddenly looks up in surprise. Is that lavender oil she can smell, she asks. The answer is yes. Marilyn likes dabbing a few drops on her wrists to help her customers relax.

The subtle - and entirely appropriate - olfactory reference cues what is nothing less than a seduction scene. Fingers running through thick hair. Faces inches away from each other. Rapid cuts from one tight close-up to another. On their own, the Timotei visuals would have conveyed the deeper significance of the moment with sufficient clarity. But I’d say they’re made even more poignant and more memorable because of the filmmakers’ decision to include that tiny detail about a character’s smell.

The rest of the film doesn’t repeat the technique. But then, even while confronting anguished truths and conflicts, it’s determined to maintain a crowd-pleasing, soft-focus niceness. So perhaps the scent of competitive locker rooms and fractured marriages wouldn’t have been welcome. Mind you, I did wonder if, towards the end, we were going to have a moment when the surprise re-appearance of lavender makes Stone realise that Riseborough is nearby before she actually sees her; that’s the sort of neat (or cloying?), 3-act symmetry I would have expected from a film of this sort. But no. Even the beads of sweat on Riggs’ face are kept a safe distance away. I expect the directors and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy felt that, if they’re to reach a wider audience, their political messages mustn’t be too visceral. And sadly, I suspect they’re right.

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For more Cinema Scent reviews, please click here.

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