Skip to main content

Battle of the Sexes is its own Winner

The 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” was a major moment in the history of womens’ sports. A highly publicized tennis match pitting veteran Bobby Riggs against talented up-and-comer Billie Jean King, it’s a story that’s long been waiting to be made into a movie. It’s Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris finally bringing it to the big screen and, through great casting and commitment, make it one of the best sports movies I’ve seen in years.
The film tracks the lead-up to the titular match, starting when King (Emma Stone) leads a troupe of female tennis players in quitting a tournament and starting their own tour in protest of payment discrimination. Meanwhile Riggs (Steve Carrell), retired from the sport, is a gambling addict in a troubled marriage. Eventually, he proposes the idea to challenge King, play up a false chauvinism, and make it a show. As this is happening, both players struggle with their personal lives, particularly King in trying to hide her burgeoning homosexuality.
This movie isn’t so much about tennis as the politics surrounding tennis in the early 70’s. It’s underlying themes are all about discrimination and King fighting for equal opportunities. Though her opponent is Riggs, her real enemy is Tennis Association director Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), who more closely believes the misogyny Riggs is spouting. And it’s this drama and underdog story that’s most interesting, and the reason why King’s spotlighted here more than Riggs. Set against a convincing 70s environment, it’s very easy to sympathize with these women tennis players and the people and hurdles they have to face. But the story doesn’t just play on your empathy, it’s a really engaging one to follow too. Even though the result of the Battle of the Sexes is well-known, many of us don’t know what went into it. For example, Riggs’ increased confidence being the result of beating another female tennis player, putting all the more stress on King. Having two lead characters we can emphatically understand certainly helps.
And it especially helps if those characters are played by actors giving their highest calibre performances. Coming off of her Best Actress win for La La Land, this is another stupendous showcase Emma Stone should certainly be nominated for. There’s a natural finesse with which she plays the part, relating with seeming ease the encumbrances of this figure. You feel every twinge of anxiety and pressure bearing down on her, from both her public life, and her personal life if it became public. The forbidden love story between her and her hairstylist Marilyn is quite well done, owing mostly to the great chemistry between Stone and Andrea Riseborough. They make for a very sweet couple as they try to keep their relationship secret. Steve Carrell also delivers terrifically. It’s hard to make a character who makes openly offensive statements sympathetic, even if it is just for show. But Carrell plays Riggs as a pathetic middle-aged gambling addict who wants to do better by his wife, played with subtlety by Elizabeth Shue, but is too entrenched in his vices and naturally irresponsible to do so. Though good at tennis, he’s seen by many to be a joke due to his sense of humour and showmanship. He’s an underdog too, if not as unjustly so as King. You can’t help but pity him at least a little.
This movie has one hell of a supporting cast, all of whom are good. I’ve mentioned Riseborough and Shue, Pullman of course has proven himself great at playing scumbags; but the film also features Sarah Silverman as Gladys Heldman, the womens’ team manager, Austin Stowell as Billie Jean’s husband Larry King (not that one), Alan Cumming, Natalie Morales, Fred Armisen, and even Chris Parnell makes a cameo appearance.
The technicals of Battle of the Sexes are all solid, it’s got a fitting tone, good pacing, and the writing is great. Dayton and Farris also shoot the tennis very well, making what’s usually just a ball bouncing back and forth something tense and interesting. In fairness, it’s the build-up that creates this effect too, the stakes being very high on King’s end to win. The promotional campaign for the match in-film does a great job showing the attitudes the media had towards such an event, incorporating real celebrities’ takes on who would win and Riggs’ goofy antics. However this emphasis on it as pure entertainment and King’s commitment to taking it more seriously is an important contrast and statement by the filmmakers.
Battle of the Sexes is a great character piece, it’s a great sports movie, and it’s a great, if sometimes inaccurate, biopic. The life of Billie Jean King and her crusade for equal opportunity in the world of sports is an enthralling one, and the way it factored into this Battle of the Sexes is well worth exploring. For both her and Riggs, it was arguably the most significant point in their careers, certainly the most famous.Dayton, Farris, Carrell, and especially Stone resurrect it impeccably here. It’s an event that deserves such a well-made film with stellar performances and an important message relevant today as it was in 1973. 

Popular posts from this blog

Mary Tyler Moore's Best Moments

A couple days ago, we lost the icon Mary Tyler Moore. On the Mount Rushmore of groundbreaking comediennes, Moore has an undeniable place (with Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and Cloris Leachman). She was often the best part of the Dick Van Dyke Show, making for half of one of the greatest TV couples. Through her own series, she was a key part of one of the most important and timeless shows of all time. Her kindness, perseverance, and good humour made her a role model for all, but especially women and girls whose greater representation in media she pioneered. She was such an endearingly sweet woman, a champion of diabetes research and a great philanthropist. When watching either of her classic shows, she always felt like a good friend. And now the world has lost that friend.
          In honour of her passing, I want to highlight just some of my favourite Mary Tyler Moore moments both as Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, that attest to what a great comedic and inspirational talen…

Disney Sundays: Moana (2016)

When I heard that the next Disney movie, Moana was going to be based around Hawaii, I was tempted to say, “haven’t we been here before?’ It doesn’t feel like too long ago that we had Lilo & Stitch. I was more curious though when I heard it would revolve around Hawaiian mythological figures like Maui and fantastical monsters. But then I remembered Ron Clements and John Musker were the directors behind Hercules and I worried. However I needn’t have, as Moana is easily the pair’s best film since Aladdin.
          A teenage girl called Moana, resident of a small isolated tribe on one of the Polynesian islands, is chosen by the ocean to be an emissary to the banished demigod Maui and convince him to return the Heart of the Sea (a small pounamu stone) to Te Fiti -the goddess he stole it from who’s cursed their world with famine as retribution.
          Though this is a standard and fittingly mythic hero's journey, the story is nonetheless an exciting one to follow due in…

Overlooked Specials 12th Day of Christmas

12th Day of Christmas:
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol This Christmas Day how about we dispense with the feels in favour of a mean but comedically genius one-off of Britain’s best series. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Blackadder, the series about a witty schemer reincarnated through various periods in British history, this special should still make you laugh. An inversion of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Blackadder played of course to perfection by Rowan Atkinson is the kindest man in England which everyone uses to take advantage of him. But an encounter with a Spirit of Christmas causes him to change his ways. Most of the Blackadder cast: Atkinson, Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Miranda Richardson appear here and are excellent, as are guests Miriam Margolyes, Jim Broadbent, and Robbie Coltrane in a role I’m sure inspired J.K. Rowling to request him for Hagrid. And the writing from Richard Curtis and Ben Elton is as sharp as ever. It’s relentlessly enjoyable, funny…