Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes

In Theatres: 
Sep 29, 2017
Running Time: 
121 minutes

For as long as there has been competition, there has been ongoing wagers as to who is better; man or woman. It’s a childish conundrum that doesn’t have a true answer because, well, neither is truly better than the other. In the 70’s, tennis took the world by storm when tennis champion Bobby Riggs challenged one of the top female competitors, Billie Jean King, to an exhibition match. And while the match itself would have no effect on the rankings, its outcome would have far reaching implications beyond just the world of tennis.


Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is the #1 ranked women's tennis player in the world, and yet her and her fellow female players are compensated much less than their male counterparts by the tennis association. Association of Tennis Professionals director Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) says it’s because the men draw bigger crowds so in an effort for equal pay, King and her teammates decide to organize their own tennis tournament to show that they’re just as interesting as the guys. This catches the eye of the aging Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), who is far from his prime yet can still hustle people out of their money with his tennis skills. He comes to King with a proposition, a tennis match between him and her to once and for all prove who the better sex is.


The trailers and marketing material for Battle of the Sexes paint the exhibition match between Riggs and King as the focal point of the film, but the real focus twofold. The majority of the film’s first half centers around King as she establishes a secret love affair with her hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). King struggles with her sexuality as she is married and any sort of controversy, her being a lesbian even more so, could ruin any message she might have about receiving equal pay.


It’s an important aspect of Billie Jean King’s life no doubt, but I feel that the film doesn’t do it enough justice. There are two big issues present and rather than tackle one of them head on, Battle of the Sexes approaches them both with trepidation. The film never fully explores why King’s relationship with Barnett was so taboo and the implications that arose from it other than the fact that it would cause tension between her and her husband or her focus on tennis. It hints at a few things but doesn’t have the time to do the subject justice. In the wise words of Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”


Despite the story, I found both Emma Stone’s and Steve Carell’s performances to be spectacular. Stone really captures King’s determination and Carell is perfect for the outrageous and over-the-top antics of Riggs. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris did an amazing job at capturing the 70’s and this once in a lifetime event. The film does an excellent job at recreating many iconic moments from the time, like when King and her teammates signed to a new tennis organization for $1 or Riggs’ nude photoshoot that can’t be unseen. For those who were alive during the time, it’s a trip down memory lane.


As far as biographical sports films go, Battle of the Sexes is a fine attempt at telling an important moment in sports history. The story could have been better and more impactful had it more of a sharper focus, but the performances are good enough to keep audiences entertained throughout. It’s no ace, but Battle of the Sexes puts up a successful volley.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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