I apologize beforehand if this review doesn’t go as deep as you want. I don’t necessarily feel like I have a lot to discuss here, but I do feel like a few things need to be addressed for sure.
I won’t go too much into the plot because it’s based on real events. In 1973, world famous tennis champion Bobby Riggs challenged the best female tennis player, Billie Jean King, to a match to prove that men were better than women at sports. This led to quite the television event building up for the match between the two, as Riggs exaggerated his chauvinistic ways to clash even further with King’s progressive feminism.
Now that’s all fine and well and I was pretty interested in seeing that brought to film starring Steve Carell and Emma Stone. That seemed like a really cool idea and I was on board.
INFORMAL SPOILER-ISH WARNING?
The film almost isn’t even about the tennis match.
I’m exaggerating obviously, the famed tennis match is pretty important to the film, but the focus is fairly split. Much of the film is devoted to Billie Jean King beginning to come to terms with her sexuality, as she finds herself infatuated with her hairdresser, Marilyn Bennett (Andrea Riseborough). This began as a pleasant surprise that I thought was used to ingratiate King further with the audience, but I grew more and more fascinated as time continued and we kept returning to what I expected to be a subplot.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are certainly no strangers to stories along these lines; their previous two films Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks feel spiritually related to at least this half of Battle Of The Sexes. The storytelling for these segments is exceptional, and it’s elevated by the beautifully subtle performances from Stone and Riseborough, with the former seeming to give career-best performances in every single at-bat (especially after Birdman and La La Land).
Because of the way that film production works, this film was clearly in production before the most recent American election had fully run it’s course, and likely wasn’t impacted by it too much. However, it’s difficult to not watch Battle Of The Sexes without the perspective that we have now. Watching a woman realize that she differs from the heteronormative expectation while being both harshly judged by her enemies and warmly embraced by her friends and teammates feels a little too familiar to the recent political climate. A sign in the crowd reads “Billie Jean King for President” reads as especially poignant, a callback to a more hopeful time that feels oddly distant.
I didn’t intend for this to get political, but that’s the unfortunate circumstance when it comes to gender and sexuality in the world we currently live in. To get back to summarizing the film, the surprise not-so-sub-plot is incredibly sincere and more than pleasantly surprising, but does cause the film to suffer a bit due to lack of focus. Both leads are doing great work throughout, but Emma Stone is obviously the highlight. Look to the directing team of Dayton & Faris to continue in delivering beautiful human stories.
Battle Of The Sexes: 8/10