Battle of the Sexes is, in many ways, a very timely release. As many groups publicly fight for equal rights and recognition in the modern world, Battle of the Sexes shows a famous battle for equal rights that took place on the tennis court in 1973 between woman’s champion Billie Jean King and showman, hustler and former men’s champion Bobby Riggs.
On the surface, Battle of the Sexes is a solid sports film with elements of comedy, but it also has some profound comparisons to the way the world works today, and is filled with meaningful moments and excellent characters.
In the early 1970’s, Bobby Riggs was struggling to adapt to a corporate lifestyle in the years after his tennis career, and had turned to hustling and gambling to get him through the day – a lifestyle that was not appreciated by his wife, Priscilla. Meanwhile, Billie Jean King was the World No. 1 in the women’s circuit, and campaigning hard for equal pay and opportunity for female tennis players. She was also beginning to come to terms with her own sexuality due to a blossoming relationship with her hairdresser, Marilyn. Seeking an opportunity to make a statement, Riggs challenges King to a tennis match for $100,000, aiming to prove once and for all that males were the dominant athletes – a challenge that King eventually accepts.
The film, in a move that surprises no-one, leans very heavily on a feminist angle, and is completely sympathetic to King’s cause. But, interestingly, it doesn’t go out of it’s way to comdemn Riggs either. Many of Riggs antics were incredibly sexist by today’s standards, and the film does show that, but the character of Bobby Riggs is written more as a showman and idiot feeding off the current climate, moreso than as a “male chauvinist pig” as Riggs once described himself. This is perhaps rooted in history, with King and Riggs becoming good friends following the match, while the film instead saves it’s most negative portrayals for commentator Jack Kramer and King’s rival (and no fan of some of her behavior) Margaret Court.
Making a champion tennis player like Margaret Court an antagonistic character used to be such a controversial idea….
While the writing is great, it’s the performances that really make this film. Fresh of an Academy Award for Best Actress, Emma Stone produces yet another awards-calibre performance in her portrayal of King, whose essence she captures perfectly. Steve Carell, similarly, is let off the leash in his role as Riggs. Riggs has some quiet moments which Carell is more than capable of pulling off, but the real joy comes when Carell is able to emulate some of Riggs’ more outlandish antics.
In addition, Bill Pullman is suitably smug and horrid as the misogynistic Jack Warner, Andrea Riseborough will win over many hearts as Billie Jean’s love interest, Marilyn, and solid support is given from the likes of Sarah Silverman and Alan Cummings. It’s a high quality cast that could see this film earn some plaudits come Oscar season.
Additionally, the tennis scenes were incredibly well done. Tennis is a sport I’ve never seen as the focus of a film before, and the scenes felt incredibly genuine and realistic. Further research revealed that the scenes were a mixture of the actors themselves, and body double athletes, but the mix was seamless – to the point that I had to check to make sure I wasn’t watching archive footage from the actual historical match. I’m really looking forward to seeing more tennis movies in the future if this is the standard we’re going to get, beginning with the upcoming Borg McEnroe.
My excitement for Borg McEnroe is slightly tempered by the knowledge that Shia LaBeouf is in it though.
The only real downfall in this movie is it’s conventionality, which is a very silly thing to complain about I find. But, in a year when we’ve had so many risky movies, some rewarding like Baby Driver and some… less so (shout out to mother!) it’s quite a shock to see a movie made in such a traditional manner. That said, it’s rather refreshing in some ways, too. Perhaps not every movie needs to be a deep thinker.
Anyway, I really liked this movie, and I think you’ll all enjoy it too. A very fun and meaningful sports movie with excellent performances. What more could you want?
4.75/5 – One of the best modern sports movies, and one of the best films of 2017 so far.