With many folks out there bemoaning the fact that politics is seeping into their football, we are reminded that politics and sports have been engaging in an uneasy waltz for decades.
The famous Battle of the Sexes took place on September 20, 1973. On that day, the 29 year old Billie Jean King defeated the 55 year old Bobby Riggs in one of the most significant tennis matches ever played in the U.S. 44 years later, Emma Stone and Steve Carell play the two competitors in Battle of the Sexes.
The film follows the events that led up to the event as well as the match itself. As would be expected, the primary focus of the film is to showcase how this event played a major role in the fight for gender equality that was at or near its peak at the time. With this in mind, there are many moments within the film where it feels like the dialogue and events taking place are a little too on the nose. This is especially apparent from many of the male characters in the film whose word choices are almost comically sexist. However, that is the mindset from 2017. Those words and statements may well have been commonplace in 1973. If that is the case, then it serves to only add more credence to the message of the film as well as the significance of the match.
That was the only initial issue that I have with the film, and it may only seem that way because it is simply too shocking to be that openly sexist today. Otherwise this is a well done film that is carried by its two leads. Stone and Carell each did well to accurately portray the King and Riggs. Stone was able to portray how serious King was towards not only this match, but everything that went into her battle for gender equality, as well as getting the overall character of King correct. Riggs was a showman and a hustler, and Carell nailed both of those qualities. In the promotion for the film, it can come seem as though Carell is being too silly and bringing too much comedy to the role, but it quickly becomes apparent that Riggs was simply that kind of person leading up to the match.
Another major aspect is that each of the players were at a crucial crossroads in their live. King was fighting for gender equality and equal pay for women in tennis while also having to deal with the reality of her own sexuality. Riggs was unable to put his hustling and gambling behind him and spent time leading up to the match away from his wife after she kicks him out of the house. This was not a simple match or publicity stunt for the individuals involved. For King it was about fighting for legitimacy, while Riggs was working for financial security as well as a way to prove himself to his wife. All of these storylines played out in front of millions of spectators who were witnessing history, whose scale is properly conveyed in the film without needing to delve into the aftermath of the match.
Battle of the Sexes is a quality film that does enough right to rise above the level of “fine” to earn the coveted review of “good.” It does not aim high enough to become any sort of major award winning type of film, but that should not detract from any enjoyment of the film. It is a film that gets many of the small details right, and that accurately and admirably recreates not only one of the most important tennis matches in U.S. history, but one of the seminal moments for women in the 20th century.