At a time where the genders are more at odds with each other than ever, history’s most famous sports match between the two couldn’t be timelier.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
It’s the early 70’s and the women’s movement is on the rise, as is the growing popularity of female athletes. When the current female tennis champion, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), is denied equal pay to her male counterparts by her label, she leaves and forms her own with a group of other top women players. Their growing following catches the eye of the former men’s champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a notorious hustler with a gambling addiction, who soon begins placing bets that he can take on these women. Fearing her progress for women could be undone by this, King agrees to take on Riggs in a match billed as the “Battle of the Sexes”.
If you’re all for Hollywood’s political agendas dominating its films, you’ll most likely enjoy Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farisz’ dramatization of one of history’s most famous tennis matches, but if – like me – you’ve become sick of it, you’ll find Battle of the Sexes becomes a little tiresome. Thankfully, it has enough positives – namely strong performances and moments of great spectacles – to make it bearable.
First and foremost, Emma Stone is the standout. Already on the finest form of her career after La La Land, she matches and possibly even surpasses that Oscar-winning role in getting under the skin of Billie Jean King. She’s determined and fierce, but far from flawless, as she juggles the enormous pressures of representing her entire gender with her personal issues.
Less sturdy is Steve Carell’s Bobby Riggs; Carell is typically excellent and very funny as the famous show-boater, but Simon Beaufoy’s script handles him unevenly, seemingly altering his character at times that feel advantageous to the message he’s pushing. Riggs begins as a truly loving family man who’s made a few mistakes, then, after a lengthy absence, jarringly transforms into a misogynistic, narcissistic egomaniac obsessed with humiliating women for seemingly no reason.
It’s these points where the film feels less like it’s telling the real story than servicing today’s political opinions. The widely held speculation that Riggs played unusually poorly and purposefully lost the battle to win a bet against himself and pay off his debts is conveniently ignored.
There’s also surprisingly little tennis; though when the great match does finally show, boy, what a spectacle it is to behold. It’s brilliantly immersive, and really does feel like you’re there among the millions of people filling Madison Square Garden. It’s ultimately these real moments that triumph over the superfluities and make Battle of the Sexes emerge a winner.
Battle of the Sexes is available in Australian cinemas from September 28
Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox