Movie Review – ‘Battle of the Sexes’

While a bit formulaic, this true story features a relevant message and brilliant performances.

Review by J.T. Johnson


DIRECTORS: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
WRITER: Simon Beaufort
MUSIC: Nicholas Britell

You’ve seen the formula that “Battle of the Sexes” follows in order to tell their true story. A person is being held back in some way so this person decides to take matters into his/her own hands and change things. In this case, the movie is about famous tennis player Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and how she got involved in an exhibition tennis match with Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a man who is trying to make some quick cash for his gambling addiction and get some publicity as the self-titled “male chauvinist pig”.

In the 1970s, women tennis players were paid absolutely meager sums of money when compared to their male counterparts. Billie Jean decides to break away from the established tennis leagues and creates a new league just for the female tennis players. Eventually, Bobby Riggs makes a crazy proposal for a $100,000 winner-takes-all game, which Billie only accepts after another female player named Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) gets humiliated in her own game with Bobby.

My biggest problem with the movie are simply the tennis scenes, of which there are thankfully not many, because the sport is just so very boring to watch. Even the climactic final match that we are anticipating is never that exciting. We at least know it’s an important match, but that’s about it.

With that said, this movie is really about the behind-the-scenes struggles of Billie Jean King. At this time in her life, she was still married and a closeted homosexual. The movie highlights her love affair with a hairdresser named Marilyn Barnett and it shows us how not only was she fighting for women’s rights, she was also having to hide a big part of herself from a world that wasn’t yet ready to understand.

What I found sad is that even though things are better today, there is still a huge problem with equality for women such as equal pay. The movie highlights this by showing us the truth of how it was for women in the past. It is a hopeful film because it shows that Billie Jean definitely did her part to make it a better world for women. If she can do it, then maybe the rest of us can make change happen as well.

On top of the inspiring story, there are the performances. This is a cast that delivers all around. The highlight of the supporting characters is Sarah Silverman as Gladys Heldman, the woman who founded “World Tennis Magazine” and helped found the women’s tour with Billie Jean. Silverman gives a truly great supporting performance as the businesswoman who has to figure out how to make the new tour work and as a genuine friend to Billie Jean.

Carrell is great as the eccentric Riggs and has the comedic chops to portray Riggs as he pulls off one publicity stunt after another. However, Carrell never forgets the more dramatic side of Riggs as a man with a terrible gambling addiction and insecurities about where he is in his own life. He doesn’t want to lose to Billie Jean, but more importantly, he wants to regain the recognition he once had as a great tennis player.

Of course, this film is nothing without the immeasurable talents of Emma Stone. She completely embodies the role of Billie Jean and disappears into the role by capturing even the smallest details of Billie’s personality. Stone may have won the Academy Award for “La La Land”, but her turn as Billie Jean may just be her best performance to date.

The movie is a bit generic with the “one person against the world” formula that we’ve seen in other “true story” films. Thankfully, fantastic performances from the film’s cast and a still relevant message for gender equality make this a film worth watching.

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