The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BATTLE OF THE SEXES | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - BATTLE OF THE SEXES

battle of the sexes review
The story of the 1973 tennis exhibition match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullmann, Alan Cumming, Elizabeth Shue

battle of the sexes poster

Find someone who takes you as seriously as Battle of the Sexes takes its titular 1973 tennis publicity stunt. It would take the forearm of a Greek god to lob a serve over the social justice mountain filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have made out of the sporting molehill that was the exhibition match held between Billie Jean King, then one of the sport's top female players, and former player turned professional huckster Bobby Riggs.

battle of the sexes

You can't help but wonder if Dayton and Faris (defying alphabetical convention, the film credits the latter first - how progressive!) didn't split duties between King and Riggs, as both characters seem to be starring in their own distinct films, even occupying confusingly separate timelines. One is a lightweight LGBTQ underdog drama starring Emma Stone as Billie Jean King, while the other is a Steve Carell comedy starring Carell as Ron Burgun...sorry, Bobby Riggs.

In 1973, desperate to keep his name in the spotlight, 55-year-old Riggs sees his era's nascent feminist movement as an opportunity to make a quick buck, challenging King, the current Women's World Number One, to an exhibition match, playing up the err, battle of the sexes, "lobber vs libber", "male chauvinist vs hairy leg feminist". When King turns him down, he later plays and beats Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) after the Aussie athlete (cruelly portrayed here as a vicious homophobe) takes the number one spot from King. This causes King to give in to Riggs, and she accepts his offer of an inter-gender match.

battle of the sexes

Let's be real here - the 'Battle of the Sexes' was nothing more than a publicity stunt, one which King likely barely gave a second thought to. Like any top athlete, King's focus would have been on reaching the pinnacle of her sport, which involved beating the best currently competing professional women, not an out of shape, pill addicted quinquagenarian. By placing so much false import on the eponymous gimmick (one which began with King presenting her opponent with the gift of a piglet, which tells you how seriously this was taken by all involved), the movie does a great disservice to women's tennis, and ironically reinforces the sexist attitude of Riggs and men of his ilk.

There's far more interesting stuff going on in the background and on the periphery of this film, like how Court is managing to be the world's best female tennis player merely months after giving birth; or how King's husband remains committed to being her rock despite knowing she's in love with her hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough, great in the few scenes she's offered before the film forgets about her subplot); or how King managed to get equal pay for women players at several US tournaments (a piece of info proffered in a throwaway line).

battle of the sexes

Another kick in the teeth to feminism comes from the film's casting. One of the reasons King was so inspiring to women came from her being the only female star of the era who was appearing on magazine covers not for her looks, but for her talents. Yet here we have the athlete played by the very conventionally attractive Stone, with the other female players on the tour inhabited by actresses who aesthetically would be more at home on catwalks than tennis courts. The real battle of the sexes rages on.

Battle of the Sexes is in UK/ROI cinemas now.