Battle of the Sexes
Billie Jean King is a tennis legend. Her exploits in the sport are well-known to avid fans, but she will likely stand out to the rest of the general public as one of the participants in the Battle of the Sexes, which sought to show if male dominance was a biological fact. We’ve finally got a gratifying film on the event, cleverly titled: The Battle of the Sexes.
The Battle of the Sexes kicks off in 1972 when Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) has won her US Open title. She’s at the peak of her career, and she uses her celebrity power to ask for equal prize money for the women in tennis tournaments. When the ATP president John Kramer (Bill Pullman) refuses King’s requests, she organizes a boycott by the top women players and they form their own tennis association. The film then delves into telling the story of King’s exploration with her sexuality, having an affair with a hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough), and it introduces us to Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell); a retired ex-Wimbeldon champion who has fallen into gambling and feeling worthless. Riggs then proceeds to challenging the top women tennis players, putting on a show for his own bemusement and parading his male chauvinistic side.
As inspiring as the film is, it does have a few problems. One of the big issues was that it crammed too much story into the first hour. There are certain subplots that are intriguing, but don’t end up pertaining to the critical endpoint in the film. It’s almost as if directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris set out to make an epic with a sports film, and it doesn’t quite fit.
The amount of time spent with Riggs and King does allow their respective actors to shine without any urgency, however. Both Carell and Stone have transitioned from comedy into drama in an impressive fashion. Both are domineering in their performances, Stone, by giving King a subtle yet imperial presence, and Carell by humanizing a character that could have easily been a caricature.
But while the leads held up the show, we fall into some problems with the supporting cast. Riseborough is fantastic, and you end up not having enough of her, but the likes of Pullman, Sarah Silverman, and Alan Cumming are shown in the most stereotypical form of their characters, especially the latter, which portrayed a gay man in a manner that belonged to an 80s movie.
But while the first hour had these few stumbles of slow pacing and over-packed subplots, the final hour is what makes this movie worth it. The build up to the final match is calculated yet thrilling, and when we get to the final match, the music and cinematography immerse you into the game so that you clench your fists in ecstatic rage with every point King wins. There were certain points in the theater that I had to restraint myself from shouting “f*** yeah!”
If the subject matter were any other I would probably have graded this film with a B. But the final message of women empowerment, and beating down the male misogynists fair and square is such a satisfying and needed message in the contemporary world that it makes the film all the more inspiring and a necessary viewing.