After being crowned number 1 in the world, Woman’s Champion Billie Jean King creates the WTA in an effort to create equal pay for women tennis players. As the competition grows Billie Jean gains the attention of men’s former number one Bobby Riggs, who wants to make a show out of him versus King, The Battle of the Sexes. After Riggs begins to make a mockery of women’s tennis, King decides to take him up on challenge in one of the biggest and most controversial sporting events. Throughout this ordeal, King begins to come to terms with her attraction to women, as her friendship with hair stylist Marilyn begins to blossom into love. This story incorporates many culturally relevant issues such as the treatment of women, feminism, and sexuality with the backdrop of a historical tennis match. Battle of the Sexes is directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, and stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Alan Cumming, Sarah Silverman, Eric Christian Olsen, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell and Natalie Morales.
The strongest element of Battle of the Sexes is the casting, with the reunion of Emma Stone and Steve Carell being a high point. The audience will fall in love with Billie Jean King solely on the performance of Emma Stone, who does a fantastic job as the tennis legend. With the story focusing more on King coming to terms with her sexuality, as well as the chauvinistic treatment that she received, Stone adds a layer of empathy that already exists for those who suffer as King did. This is a role that could see Stone nominated for her second Oscar. Emma Stone also has fantastic chemistry with her co-star Andrea Riseborough, who plays her secret lover Marilyn. The scenes shared by these two women are completely engaging as the two women are conflicted by their attraction for each other and what is socially acceptable at the time, but their love does feel genuine. Bobby Riggs is both charming and repulsive and that’s how Steve Carell plays it. This is a different role for Carell, where he is effectively the ‘villain’ of the movie. The movie pulls no punches with Riggs, making him out to be a chauvinist who is completely unlikeable, with the audience being completely unsympathetic to him . Another brilliant performance comes from one of the true villains of this whole ordeal in Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer, the head of the National Tennis Association. From his opening scenes he is completely unlikeable, but an excellent representation of typical obstacles that women would face. Pullman was excellent in this role, and despite how awful his character is he is a delight to watch. Other stands out performances were from Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming, both who bring heart and humour to the movie.
Despite the marketing being focused on the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, that match is actually not the focal point of the film. In fact, the match does not take place until the end of the film. The story is actually about Billie Jean and her fight for equal rights for female tennis players, whilst she comes to terms with her sexuality, something that could have ruined her career. The equal rights and feminist movement are the big points of this film, showing the inequality that women suffer more than homosexual rights, which King became involved with later in her career. Going into Battle of the Sexes expecting a movie about tennis is not recommended, like the film Invictus, the story focuses on the social issues around the sporting events.
Something I found interesting about Battle of the Sexes was the different perceptions people had regarding this movie and how it affected their viewing experience. My partner who knew of Billie Jean King as a feminist icon thought the movie told a fascinating story regarding women’s rights. I read article from the perspective of LGBTQ where the author perceived her as a lesbian icon that felt this movie did her a disservice and played down the treatment of homosexuals at that time, as well as the toll the secret life took on Billie Jean King. Given the marketing for this movie, I was expecting to see a sports movie focusing on this tennis match, but the movie spent more time dealing with the social issues than the actual sport. I attribute this to my lack of knowledge about all the issues surrounding this topic and the players involved, and taking the marketing at face value.
Biopics like Battle of the Sexes are not often know for cinematography but there are certain scenes that completely blew me away. The early scenes between Billie Jean and Marilyn are incredible; with the romantic tension between the women being intensified by the way the camera moves between them, slowly cutting in and out. This is a technique used through out the movie, really putting emphasis on the electricity between these two women, and it works brilliantly. The other well-shot aspect of Battle of the Sexes was the actually tennis match between King and Riggs. It is hard to recreate and shoot sporting matches, given the fact these are actors and not athletes, but this match looked fantastic. There was a realistic tension about it that felt like I was watching a live tennis match, and had I not known the outcome I would have been very nervous.
Overall, Battle of the Sexes is a well-made movie that is extremely relevant given many of the issues that are currently plaguing society. It shows how far we have come but at the same time how little we have actually changed. Many things in this movie will frustrate the audience that this was happening less than 50 years ago. It is definitely worth watching for the performances alone, but the additional elements make this movie stand out. The important thing to remember is this is a movie about social issues, not just about sport, and focuses more on Billie Jean King than tennis.
If you enjoy movies about relevant social issues check out Battle of the Sexes. Fans of Emma Stone and Steve Carell will also enjoy this movie.
Battle of the Sexes scores a 7/10
Thanks for reading my review of Battle of the Sexes. Have you seen the movie? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comment section below.
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