Nutshell: Seriou, funny, riveting and real, Battle of the Sexes digs into the lives of two tennis superstars and paints a picture of the era…and problems in our world we still seem to be grappling with. Grade: A-
“Time to join the dance.”
Story: A has-been sports hero with a gambling problem. A successful young woman who’s trying to balance her life with her love of what she does. No, it’s not a romance…unless you count tennis “Love”. 1973’s “Batttle of the Sexes” pitted Billie Jean King against Bobby Riggs, in a match that would shake up the way women’s tennis was thought of. And the way women were thought of too. Well, at least a bit.
Genre I’d put it in: Historical Films Even PBS Haters Will Enjoy
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the historical 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, titled the “Battle of the Sexes”.
Gotta say: This is a beautiful, well acted film with a killer soundtrack. There, now that the details are out of the way, what’s really good and bad here? Well, there’s lots and lots of good. Emma Stone and Steve Carrell do an amazing job as King and Riggs, delivering nuanced performances of these larger-than-life sports stars. Stone’s ability to portray King’s struggle with her sexuality after meeting soon-to-be girlfriend Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) rang true, as did the way King struggled with the life she wanted to live and the tennis she loved. Carrell seems to love digging into Riggs’ Grand Showman persona, but also lets us see how Riggs’ gambling has slowly eroded his personal life.
What’s really amazing about this film is the way they handle the women’s rights movement of the 70s. More importantly, how the film not-so-subtly shows that while we’ve “come a long way, baby”, we haven’t come as far as we need to. Ditto for LGBTQ rights. Scenes where women are talked down to, treated as chattel, and generally dismissed as Lesser Than hit a bit too close to home during the administration of a man who’s known to treat women as things to be grabbed. And Alan Cumming’s portrayal of Ted Tinling is not only a study in fabulousness (oh how I want so many of those costume pieces), but a statement that just because someone is majorly “jazz hands” doesn’t mean that person isn’t an intelligent, thoughtful, flesh-and-blood human being.
I’d write more, but honestly? I’m not feeling so hot, and I figure if you have any questions, you’ll ask. But trust me when I say that this film is worth seeing. Yes, Emma Stone and Steve Carrell still look like themselves (even with the wigs and stylings), but their performances are stellar. Sure, sometimes the film takes a tip-of-the-iceberg approach, but there’s just so much to cover it’d be impossible to do everything justice in two hours. Yes, I’d like to have seen more about the interplay between the women of the Women’s Tennis Association…but hey, that can be another film, can’t it? If the attention to detail and clear-eyed look at history is the same as it is with Battle, I’ll be front and center for opening night.
#Protip: Folks wondering about what’s real and what’s Hollywood in this movie – including what became of Billie and Marilyn’s romance – should check out Slate’s article about what’s Fact vs. Fiction in this film.