Based on the famous tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the film takes a while to get going but takes a fascinating look at sexual politics on and off the court in the 1970’s.
If you are looking for a film that features feisty performances about an issue about a topic that is very much relevant in 2018 that is done in an empowering way then look no further as Battle of the Sexes has plenty to make you cheer as well as make you despair about attitudes in sport that are really only slightly beginning to change now.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Battle of the Sexes is about the build up to the match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs that took place in 1973 in an attempt to raise awareness of women’s lack of equality in tennis in terms of pay (which fell short of men’s wages). But along the way it is a film that has a lot to say about identity, ambition and self-belief that makes it a thoroughly empowering and engaging film to watch – even if it makes you wonder just how much has really changed since then.
At the film’s centre, Emma Stone is virtually unrecognisable as Billie Jean King, but she delivers a feisty, commanding and bold performance of a character who the audience can easily root for – even in the face of all of the struggles that she goes through including her affair with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett that threatens to derail her marriage. She portrays a woman with great psychological strength and not willing to give up the fight – no matter what the cost is.
On the other side of the net, Steve Carell plays Bobby Riggs as a character whose self-confidence and addiction to gambling is ultimately his downfall – allowing a slight sense of vulnerability enter the character that makes him a touch more sympathetic. However, there are times when he and the film tend to rely too much on the quirkiness of Bobby’s personality that means that both the film and character loses focus – as seen during the scene in which Bobby will use all kind of costumes and props for publicity that seems too flamboyant and over the top to be true.
The film does take some time to get going and it isn’t a shame that more isn’t made of the contact between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in the build up to the match that would given the audience more interest into the outcome of the match (if of course they didn’t realise what the outcome was). It could have put more strongly the opposing arguments that both had to give the film a stronger core.
However, where the film does succeed is in exposing the backwards attitude in tennis and perhaps in sport in general about whether women should have equal pay – which is still being argued today. Take a look at this article from two years ago which talks about rewarding tennis players equally for their talent – it shows that this topic isn’t just simply about money it is about respecting women as much for their talent as men and this film really showcases one of the turning point moments in order for this to happen. But sadly, it also shows just how far we have still yet to go.
The script by Simon Beaufoy perfectly captures exactly what the women were up against with constant references to women not being as physically strong as men and not the same attitude to succeed voiced by characters such as Jack Kramer. It is infuriating to listen to – but it successfully makes the point that we can’t hope to change people’s attitudes unless we try.
Overall, it is a film that is about grit and determination and shows how one person willing to make a difference (let alone a group of women) can create change in a powerful way. Inspirational watch.
Battle of the Sexes is released on DVD and Blu-ray on the 26th March.