Right off the
bat racket, anyone going to see the Battle of the Sexes movie should be made aware that this story isn’t solely about tennis, nor is it solely about the infamous 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match between tennis pros Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).
Obviously, both of those things are the focal point of the movie, but there’s an entire storyline that’s being glazed over in trailers and not being addressed by the media. Battle of the Sexes isn’t so much about tennis or the gender disparity between men and women as it is about the life story and struggle of King herself.
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King, now 73, is credited as a consultant on the film, and there’s no doubt she would have to be considering how personal the movie gets. Above all, the film is a story of her intimate life, and sure, it consistently claims that tennis is all there is to King and everything else is secondary, but throughout the movie, you start to doubt if this version of King is completely dedicated to the sport.
How can you say Billie Jean King isn’t dedicated to tennis? She’s one of the greats!
Not the real-life King, but this movie version. Without question, King is one of the best tennis players to ever pick up a racket, but in the movie, she’s easily distracted by love while on tour. When the women on the tennis tour stop at a hair salon, Stone’s King makes eyes with the pretty woman doing her hair, and the pair slowly starts to fall for each other.
This isn’t a temporary thing, either; it’s a major point of the movie, and goes on to colour King’s behaviour on and off the court. After all, she was married (to a man) at the time. So while the audience is told over and over that tennis is her number-one priority, her actions onscreen say otherwise.
Also, there is but a scant, three-second glimpse of this love affair in the official trailer, which is troubling for many reasons. Is it being purposefully camouflaged in the trailer because it’s lesbianism? Was the studio afraid of turning away the audience? If so, what does that say about women’s rights as a whole, even now in 2017?
What about the match?
The movie culminates in the 1973 match, and it features the most tennis the viewer will see during its two-hour runtime. Impeccably shot, it’s just as spellbinding as the real thing. Old footage from the actual match is sometimes integrated into the film, and it’s fascinating to hear the way broadcasters used to refer to women. Jaw-dropping, actually.
Kudos to Stone, who goes full-tilt in capturing the essence of King, her brassiness, her ballsiness and her ability to silence critics with a well-thought-out verbal jab. The movie’s faults have nothing to do with acting ability — Stone aces this role and does her absolute best with the material.
How is Steve Carell’s Bobby Riggs?
Similar to Stone, he is remarkable. Carell has an ability to fully morph into whatever character he’s assigned. There are echoes here of Carell’s Oscar-nominated performance in Foxcatcher, in which he plays eccentric millionaire John du Pont. Minus the nose prosthetic but still wearing full, matching athletic suits, Carell steals almost every scene he’s in. He excels most when he’s being bombastic, and Riggs is probably the most outspoken character he’s played.
Sarah Silverman provides some much-needed levity to the film, and is another scene-stealer.
How well does the movie address sexism?
Frankly, not very well. Talk about a missed opportunity! It goes something like this: man/TV/someone makes sexist comment, audience gasps, King makes witty reply, audience titters, then that’s it. There’s no real discussion, no real exploration of the issue and why it’s happening. It’s a huge build-up over one-and-a-half hours, and then suddenly we’re at the match, which takes up about 10 minutes of movie time.
Most jarring is, post-match, there is no exposition. There’s no explanation about how/if King’s victory changed things in the lives of everyday women. It’s just implied, and then we get the standard post-movie script explaining things that could’ve been onscreen. It seems weird in a time when gender is being so carefully explored and dissected that the story’s summation is glazed over and replaced with written text. Women’s place in society is meant to be the focus, and it’s certainly what the trailer will lead you to believe.
What’s the bottom line?
The movie is unquestionably scattered and neglects what it’s supposed to address, which is the centuries-long mistreatment of women and sexism both within the world of sport and the world at large. The acting is superb but the story is lacking — and again, that’s not to say King’s life isn’t fascinating in its own right — so don’t be surprised when you spend the majority of the movie off the court.