Film Review: BATTLE OF THE SEXES (directed by Jonathan Dayon and Vaerie Faris)

by Frank Arthur on March 22, 2018

in CD-DVD,Film

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BATTLE OF THE SEXES IS BASED ON A TRUE STORY

Battle of the Sexes is a stranger-than-fiction, inspiring story of how the tennis courts of America were the battleground for gender equality in sport. It is a 2017 biographic film focusing on a tennis match that took part in 1973 between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. The film was directed by Jonathan Dayon and Vaerie Faris, who previously directed the award-winning comedy Little Miss Sunshine and written by Simon Beaufoy who also wrote the film Slum Dog Millionaire.

(Image from Facebook. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox.)

Story

The film is set in the ’70s. Following the sexual revolution and the rise of the women’s movement, tennis star Billie Jean King, portrayed by Emma Stone in the film, demands respect and equal pay for women tennis players. King has just been announced the number one player in the sport and receives praise from president Richard Nixon, who is an admiring fan. King and Gladys Heldman, the founder of the World Tennis Magazine (played by Sarah Silverman) have a confrontation with Jack Kramer, Bill Pullman’s character.

Kramer announces a tennis tournament whose prize for women is only one-eighth of the men’s prize, which Heldman and King are not happy about. This is despite the fact that women’s tennis successfully draws in crowds just much as men’s tennis does, as shown by ticket sales, which are equal in number. The duo threatens to start their own tennis tour. Kramer refuses to alter the terms and dismissively states that women are inferior at tennis. Kramer goes as far as expelling the women who join the new tour from the Lawn Tennis Association, knowing this will effectively prevent them from competing in future tennis events. In retaliation, the women band together to form the first Women’s Tennis Association.

Played by Steve Carell, Bobby Riggs is a former men’s tennis champion who after hearing about the women’s stand, challenges King in order to prove that men are dominant in the sport and overall. Real-life Bobby Riggs was an iconic figure in his time. He was aged 55, coming out of retirement when the titular real-world tennis match took place, versus a 29-year-old Billie Jean King. The match was billed as “The Battle of the Sexes” and became one of the most watched televised sports of all time, reaching 90 million viewers from around the world. The result was a cultural spectacle which resonated beyond the tennis court and sparked discusses regarding gender equality.

In one scene, the playful Rigg’s wins a bet against a friend during a friendly tennis match earning him a Rolls Royce. The real Riggs loved a bit of a cheeky gamble and in fact moved on to work as a casino greeter after the match. Many things have changed since the seventies, from gender equality and political correctness to casino gaming, as players nowadays increasingly turn to online casinos such as dunder casino for their hobby. King not only battles for equality but is also fighting her own complex personal battles as she explores and comes to terms with her own sexuality as her relationship with her friend and hairdresser Marilyn Barnett – played by Andrea Riseborough – develops romantically, threatening her career if she is outed in a less than tolerant world. The overconfident Riggs’s is also fighting his own demons as the ageing media personality struggles to remain relevant in a changing world. Rigg’s careless personality and constant showboating causes damage his relationship with his wife Priscilla and his adult son.

(Image from History vs Hollywood: Billy Jean King on the left and Emma Stone in character on the right)

Cast

Emma Stone does a wonderful job in her portrayal of the determined tennis legend King who is under great pressure representing her gender to prove that women are just as capable as men in sport. Stone is able to capture the iron resolve of King while also showing the generosity and bravery of her spirit which made her such an inspiring figure.

Carell is quite entertaining to watch in his performance as the clownish Riggs. Carell portrayal of Riggs is more of a showman more interested in delivering an entertaining performance rather than driven by chauvinism like Jack Kramer.

Both Stone and Carell were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances in the film.

Reception

The film was theatrically released in the United States by Fox Searchlight Pictures on September 22nd, 2017 and received positive reviews from critics. Emma’s Stone’s portrayal of King was particularly praised as perhaps her best performance. The film currently holds a “fresh” score of 85% on the Tomatometer on Rotten Tomatoes.

Battle of the Sexes
20th Century Fox
2017| 122 minutes |
released on DVD January 2, 2018
available on disc or streaming at Amazon

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