Review by Dustin Heller
Battle of the Sexes is a biographical sports film centered around the famous tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The movie is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the duo behind the independent smash hit Little Miss Sunshine, and written by Academy Award winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire). The film stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs with support coming from Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell and Sarah Silverman. Battle of the Sexes is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.
Due to the lack of pay equality in professional tennis, Billie Jean King founded The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in 1973 to help right this wrong. King realized that women’s tournaments were just as much of a draw as the men’s, but the pay differential for women was substantial. The tour became a success, but women were still viewed as less superior than their male counterparts.
This was made even worse when a 55-year-old Bobby Riggs beat Margaret Court, the number one ranked women’s player in the world at the time, in an exhibition match. This defeat was a major blow to the women’s game and forced Billie Jean King’s hand to accept a match against the arrogant Riggs. This match was deemed the “Battle of the Sexes” and played a major role in equality for women’s sports.
I wasn’t even alive when the “Battle of the Sexes” match was played between King and Riggs, so I can’t really speak to the culture of that time, but this movie almost feels like a parody of male chauvinism. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a big issue at the time, but seeing it play out on the big screen almost comes across as silly. Billie Jean King is a pioneer for human rights and gender equality, but I’m not sure this film does a great job of putting that on display.
The Bobby Riggs character is such a fool that it almost takes away some of the credibility of what King was trying to accomplish. Not to mention, the sexual awakening scenes for King were misplaced and came across as forced. With that said, there were still some good takeaways from the movie. The performances of both Stone and Carell were spot-on, although I do think Stone was perhaps a little too pretty and feminine for the role. Also, the vintage look of the film, from the set designs to the costumes, was quite impressive and seemed very authentic to the era.
On a personal note, the biggest takeaway for me was just hearing the complete story. I’ve known of this match pretty much my entire life, but was always under the impression that it was more of a joke than an actual match. On the contrary, this was not only an actual match, but an important one for women’s tennis and on a grander scale, women’s liberation at large.
I do think this is a significant story, but unfortunately the film is pretty bland. I don’t see any reason to rush out and see Battle of the Sexes on the big screen. Better yet, do some research online and find out even more about this remarkable moment in history.
Battle of the Sexes opens in theaters on Friday, September 29