It’s man vs woman here in 1973. Tennis star Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) takes on former champion Billy Riggs (Steve Carrell) in a “Battle of the Sexes” match. We’re courtside at what is to become a landmark showdown. It’s part of a wider fight for women’s rights, as this was an era when sexism against women was publically prevalent. Sound familiar?
Stone is excellent as Billie Jean, her best performance to date. The casting here is bang-on. Her take on King is reserved and insecure, the complete opposite of Carrell’s portrayal of Riggs. The guy is full of it, boasting he can beat any woman in the world. He’s also a gambling addict with a marriage on the rocks.
Unlike King’s good-nature, Riggs is like a class clown, out there cracking jokes and being controversial. He doesn’t care about competition or equality; he’s just bored of his life and fancies a spell in the spotlight. He might be the biggest on-screen attention seeker of all time, and Carrell plays male chauvinism like he was born to do it.
Billie Jean gets most of the screen time and the main plot entwines with the personal goings-on in her life. The film has some heavy-handed strokes involving equality, gay rights and feminism. These elements mesh together with the romance between Billie Jean and Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). Their budding relationship is unfussily executed, never drifting into melancholy.
The best bits come in the build-up to the tennis match. The film becomes fast-paced, buzzing with excitement as Billie Jean gets ready for the big day. She’s pretty nervous about the whole thing but has the strength to beat any self-doubt. As such, we’re reminded of the extreme determination that’s required for athletes to perform at the top of their game. If you’re like me and into sports, you’ll appreciate this element even more.
Undoubtedly, Battle of the Sexes offers an interesting insight into an infamous grudge match. But bear in mind it doesn’t teach you much about tennis, so don’t expect to come away as an expert on the sport. The film is more interested in what was going on at the time. Overall, viewers should have lots of fun with this film. Its breezy, gripping and blissfully entertaining!
Check out the trailer below:
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Stars: Emma Stone, Steve Carrell, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming.
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures