Battle of the Sexes

Film, Drama
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Battle of the Sexes

Emma Stone and Steve Carell throw themselves into an epic tennis showdown that’s equal parts funny and unsettling.

‘Male chauvinist pig versus hairy-legged feminist!’ That’s how ex-tennis pro Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) pitches his big idea to women’s champ Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) in ‘Battle of the Sexes’, a movie based on a story that would be unbelievable if it weren’t true. The Riggs vs King tennis showdown played for a global TV audience in 1973; here it’s mined for both laughs and drama by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. While it doesn’t quite hit the highs of their ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable watch with a terrific cast.

Stone leads the way as King, the no-nonsense star who takes on the sexist US Lawn Tennis Association after it announces a prize fund that’s a staggering eight times more for men than women. Launching her own women’s tournament with the aid of organiser Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), King goes on tour. Meanwhile, former world number one Bobby Riggs is struggling with a gambling addiction and hoping to hustle his way back into the spotlight. The early ’70s was a time of showboating self-promotion in TV sports, which was going through its brash Muhammad Ali-inspired phase, not to mention a rapidly changing time for women’s rights. What better opportunity, Riggs arrogantly assumed, for proving that men are better at sport than women?

It’s a fun set-up with a rousing finale that broadly compensates for a saggy middle (at two hours, it feels a little too long). But despite its inspiring feminist message, it’s the LGBT+ angle that proves the most compelling, as King quietly discovers her sexuality with hairdresser Marilyn (a wonderful Andrea Riseborough). The scenes between the two women are beautifully handled, their attraction as palpable as King’s dilemma: Not only was she famous in a less-accepting era, she was also closeted, and married to a man. Carell’s cartoonish antics are funny enough, but the two women are the tale’s real champions. 

By: Anna Smith

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Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday November 24 2017
Duration: 121 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Screenwriter: Simon Beaufoy
Cast: Emma Stone
Steve Carell
Andrea Riseborough

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3.5 / 5

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tastemaker

Superb, well written, very well cast. About half of the film was about her sexuality... her discovering a new partner and having to deal with the effects of that on her husband. I knew the outcome of the match and I knew the basics of the story but there were so many fascinating details that made it that much more rich and interesting. See it.

tastemaker

Billie Jean King was a great tennis player and a person who was prepared to stand up and fight for women's equality especially when it came to prize money in women's tennis. Married to Larry, a seemingly wonderful man, and at the top of her tennis game (I won't waste my time on Margeret Court whose homophobic attitudes were as abhorrent then as they would be now), she accepted the challenge extended by former champion, Bobby Riggs, over twenty years her senior to a tennis match. His ego allowed himself to believe he could beat any female tennis player. Well, he did beat Margeret Court (😀👍). The rest has to be watched and enjoyed.


I enjoyed it overall, but felt it glossed over too much of Riggs' motivations, previous similar match and also the well-known theory that the match was essentially to pay off his gambling debts. I think they did Billie Jean King justice but made Riggs too one-dimensional. Not as good as Little Miss Sunshine, but a good way to spend a couple of hours.

Tastemaker

Battle of the Sexes is part sports flick, part biopic, part romance, drama and comedy.

For the most part it weaves these elements together seamlessly, intermingling the story of Billie Jean King’s quest for pay parity with her climactic battle against misogynistic former great, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrel).

Emma Stone plays King with great charm and passion, bringing us along on her personal and professional journey. The film is far funnier than expected, providing a fair few belly laughs. These don’t detract from the drama, however - and it is dramatic. Despite the majority of the audience knowing the ultimate outcome, the film maintains a sense of tension.

Overall, it’s a punchy, enjoyable few hours of entertainment. It may not be a classic, but it’s a well made and fun film for a Sunday afternoon.

I was lucky enough to see Battle of the Sexes at its European Premiere, so the film was improved further by the presence of Emma Stone and Billie Jean King. A fantastic night, for an entertaining film.