Boys vs. Girls. Didn’t this stuff stay in the playground?
It was 1972 and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) was on top of the tennis world. She was #1, breaking all sorts of records, and oh yeah, had a phone conversation with Tricky Dick. Pretty awesome, right? Well, apparently not that awesome as she was only receiving an eighth of what a man made in professional tennis, leading her, as well as many other pro-tennis females to boycott the league and start their own. Meanwhile, hustler has-been Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was looking for his next and best score, when all of a sudden, it came to him: Why not face-off against a female tennis-player and prove, once and for all, that women are the inferior species? Surely Bobby didn’t actually think this, but he knew that the media would create a swirl-storm, hyping up whoever he played, creating quite the anticipation around the match itself. This happens, of course, with Billie Jean, but it comes at a price for both of them. For Bobby, his marriage begins to fall-apart, whereas for Billie, hers does too, however, with much different circumstances as she’s absolutely afraid of being ousted as “gay”, even though she’s clearly in love with her hair-dresser (Andrea Riseborough).
Battle of the Sexes clearly deals with a lot of the issues we’re having in our current day-to-day society, but it doesn’t try to fall back on them too much. After all, creating a modern-day parallel isn’t all that difficult, what with a female candidate and a male candidate vying for the presidency and coming very close to a split-decision (depending on who you ask), and blatant sexism being thrown everywhere you looked. It’s something that makes America, America, and it doesn’t matter if it happens in 1972, or 2016, or 2046, it’s something that’s a problem and needs to be changed.
But then again, there’s no issue with what Battle of the Sexes brings to the table, as it’s much more about these two individuals in general, the people around them, the so-called “conflict”, and oh yeah, that sport called tennis. Co-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton are smart in not allowing this material to ever get too preachy, corny, or even melodramatic – along with Simon Beaufroy’s script, they allow for each and every character to have a certain bit of heart and humanity to go beyond their sometimes silly personas.
Case in point, Bobby Riggs.
While he is no doubt a caricature and clearly not meant to be take so entirely seriously, Carell and the movie give him some pathos and show us a softer, rather sad tide to his whole appearance. While he may have no doubt been a hustler, a cheat, a gambler, he was still a nice enough and charming enough guy to make you smile and entertain the hell out of you, even if that came at the expense of all those around him. Carell fits the Riggs-role so well that it’s hard to see anyone else in it, whether he’s cheeking it up for the press, or trying to score a few extra-dollars off of his friends and family, when the cameras aren’t around.
But then again, he does get the short-end of the stick when it comes to Billie Jean King who, as played by Emma Stone, is perfect. Like with Riggs, Battle of the Sexes gives us more to Billie Jean than just a bad-ass, rather tomboy-ish leader of the women’s movement; she was surely troubled, scared, a little lonely, and incredibly vulnerable. We see a softer-side to her that goes well in adjacent with her tough-as-nails skills on the tennis-court and it allows for Stone to give this character more and more depth, as we go along and learn more about her. The movie is clearly hers and she’s more than deserving of it.
And as for everybody else, the same goes.
Battle of the Sexes isn’t a movie where the immoral people are classified as “villains” – more or less, they’re just seen as pricks, or d-bags. Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer is a perfect example, especially of someone who can be seen as “a baddie”, but isn’t really; he’s just a businessman who has a certain way of getting his dick-ish point across. Same goes for all of those around Billie Jean, like her husband, as played by Austin Stowell, who seems more like a manager, than a passionate, loving-companion. But still, he’s not seen as a bad guy who, when finding out about his wife’s trysts with Riseborough’s Marilyn, doesn’t scream, hoot, holler, yell, or break things – he’s just sad, as anyone would be. Riseborough is also quite great in this role that gives her the chance to show a softer side to Billie Jean that makes us actually feel the conflict and the love, sometimes, both at the same time.
But really, everyone here is great. They’re given something to work with and guess what? They all make their presences known. It’s the kind of mainstream, Hollywood biopic that gets made literally all the time, but doesn’t actually have this much thought or reason to go with it.
It’s rare and I’m glad it’s around.
Consensus: As much of a sports movie, as much as it’s about two sports-icons who made the best of their professional and personal lives, Battle of the Sexes is smart, fun, and entertaining, while also boasting great performances all across its ensemble.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire