Many have heard of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, marketed as ‘The Battle of the Sexes’, but fewer may be aware of the seismic shifts in women’s tennis that prefaced the event. This film takes all this in its fleet-footed stride.
The grand slam performance is undoubtedly that of Steve Carell, revelling in Riggs’ self-appointed ‘Male Chauvinist Pig’ showmanship, but equally maintaining a undeniable likability – sure, he’s a hustler out for himself, but there’s no malice there. It takes a little longer for Emma Stone to immerse her very particular vibe into the character of Billie Jean King, but once she does she entirely captures the audience’s sympathies.
The supporting cast are by no means mere spectators however, with particular standouts being an impressively laconic Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming as flamboyant designer Ted Tinling and Andrea Riseborough as the distraction who causes Billie Jean to take her eye off the ball.
Everyone loves a classic underdog sports story like this, and it’s great to throw the weight – and context – of women’s lib behind it too. Remember: this is when feminism was (originally) a dirty word. Battle of the Sexes nails the frequent, casually sexist and patronising comments of the era: you’ll cringe in acknowledgement at the prevalence. Slightly awkwardly, the same arguments used then to defend the pay disparity between men and women in tennis tournaments (less exciting, less powerful etc.) are still trotted out today.
Battle of the Sexes powerfully – but brightly – volleys dated attitudes of the 1970s with panache, aplomb and groovy retro style. With a tennis ‘gender gap’ still evident (lesser respect, sponsorship or coverage), how fascinating it would be to be a fly on the wall when Serena Williams or John McEnroe watches this film…
CAST: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue
DIRECTORS: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
WRITER: Simon Beaufoy
SYNOPSIS: Based on the true story of the 1973 tennis match between leading female tennis player Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.