From the directors of Little Miss Sunshine and the writer of The Full Monty, Battle of the Sexes is the story behind the 1973 tennis match between tennis aces Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
It’s hard to imagine the Battle of the Sexes having a more pertinent release time than right now, with the war for equality raging stronger than ever, the message of acceptance and coming out, and with the war against sexist buffoons taking on those in power. In truth, that’s possibly the best thing Battle of the Sexes has going for it, because it’s the kind of film you’ve seen before – well presented and acted, but slightly lacking a little depth of character.
Stone is Billie Jean, whose anger at the lack of pay equity when offered a part in a tournament that pays an eighth of what the men receive sees her launch a women’s league of her own. Alienated from the boys’ club and determined to build credibility for women’s lib and for the sport, the apparently happily-married Billie Jean is also struggling with attraction after a chance meeting with Marilyn, a hairdresser played with subtlety and warmth by Andrea Riseborough.
At the same time, former Wimbledon ace and compulsive gambler and hustler Bobby Riggs (a wonderfully spot-on likeness from Steve Carell) is looking for his next challenge. Chasing a bet, and with his family life in ruins because of it, the self-styled male chauvinist pig challenges Billie Jean to a game to demonstrate once and for all that men are better than women.
With two storylines that flow and ebb before colliding, Battle of the Sexes manages to mix the hazy 70s cinematography and some firecracker performances from the likes of Silverman as King’s agent into a crowd-pleasing affair that lobs and serves as well as those on the field.
But in truth, Carell’s Riggs never feels like his sexist bluster is anything other than a push for PR on the pitch, and despite a good solid turn that mixes both comedy and warmth, it feels like Riggs the Austin Powers of the tennis world. (Though it is good to see Carell reunite with his Crazy, Stupid, Love counterpart.)
While Stone’s King is a bit more of a rounded character, personifying the internal struggle with non-showy chutzpah, Battle of the Sexes‘ strength and weakness each lie in the fact that it chooses not to vilify any side of the debate. Both portrayals are flattering, neither are damning and the overall result is one of a fairly generic movie whose parts help it excel, and achieve a timely poignancy in the global scale of events.
Decidedly light but never too lightweight not to resonate, Battle of the Sexes is a game of a film that serves, lobs, ducks and weaves like a true sportsperson. It’s here to entertain and keep you focussed on the action (such as it is) and it does so with aplomb, thanks to its trio of leads.
Battle of the Sexes
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Elizabeth Shue, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Running time: 121 minutes