Battle of the Sexes

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From the directing team that created Little Miss Sunshine, Battle of the Sexes tells the stories of Bille Jean King and Bobby Riggs that lead up to the most viewed tennis match of all time. 30,000 people in the Astrodome, 50 million people across the United States and 90 million around the world watched the 29-year-old queen of women’s tennis take on the 55-year-old Hall of Famer and self-proclaimed male chauvinist. Battle of the Sexes is the first, and maybe only, adaptation of this story to make it to the screen. Just a couple years ago there were 3 in the race: a Will Ferrell lead film called Match Maker and a made-for-HBO movie starring Paul Giamatti. If these two ever make it to the light of day, it seems that they will focus more on the Bobby Riggs character, which could ultimately compliment this film. If you want to learn more about the real story that ignited the imaginations of three different production companies, go read Don Van Natta Jr.’s excellent piece.

This film stars Emma Stone as Billie Jean King, Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs, Andrea Riseborough as Marylin and Austin Stowell as the most understanding spouse in history.  I had a really fun time watching this movie, as it told a serious story about Billie Jean and used Bobby as the comedic element. If you just read the basic plot summary on IMDB, you will go in expecting a standard based-on-real-events sports film, like Cool Runnings or Eddie the Eagle. What you get is a drama set in the world of sports; something closer to Ali or Remember the Titans. Bobby is the driving force in moving the match forward, as he tries to earn more money while coming to the end of his career on the senior tour. Billie Jean is more focused on altering the world of tennis, for the better, were women are concerned. After being told that women are only worth 1/8 of the male players salary, Billie and her manager Gladys (Sarah Silverman) part ways from the current governing body of tennis to create the Women’s Tennis Association. While on tour, Billie begins to question herself, her marriage, her sexuality and her place in tennis, creating the most stressful time of her life.

The film is dominated by its excellent cast and the ability to recreate the, sometimes unbelievable, history and antics of Bobby Riggs. Carell is great, as usual, when he isn’t playing a silly character; but the real acting portions were carried by Emma Stone and Riseborough, who had an amazing level of chemistry as a “free love” hippy of sorts and a reserved star and wife.

I think that the film could have been improved with a change in the mix of screen time between Billie and Bobby. As it was shown, it is probably about 80% Billie and 20% Bobby. I think it could have been better to really focus on the match between the two and make it more 50-50, or to make it the “Billie Jean King Story” and reduce it to 95-5. If I were to make the call, it would have heavily focused on Billie Jean. I think it would have made the difference between a very good movie I will definitely watch again, and a great movie everyone should see. The film tells a story that is still relevant today, as people fight for equality when it comes to their gender or sexuality.  So, while it may not be a perfect movie, I recommend anyone that likes sports films, or films focused on equality, give it a shot.

3.5 out of 5