Image: Emma Stone & Steve Carell as Billie Jean King & Bobby Riggs. © Photograph by Melinda Gordon. Property of Fox Film Corporation [Source: IMDB]
Battle of the Sexes, directed by Dayton and Faris, tells the true story of the 1973 tennis match between number one women’s tennis player Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champ and serial gambler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell [12A]
In the wake of the sexual revolution in the 1970s, these two tennis champions headlined an event that reflected the society around it and it seems to do so again now. The issues reflected and meditated on through the movie are ones of the 70s and certainly now as issues of gender, women and the wage gap are still ever-present in our society, the film does very well not to turn the movie into a rallying cry or be too serious in its telling of these issues.
This is to the films credit as it remains entertaining throughout, the story of these two tennis stars is absolutely ludicrous (thanks to Bobby Riggs) at times and it’s hard to believe some of these things actually happened, the film assures you – they in fact did. The characters are absolutely nailed, Steve Carell manages to pull off Bobby Riggs with such ease that I couldn’t help but wonder if he was even trying. Astonishingly he is overshadowed by the performance of Emma Stone as Billie Jean King, who absolutely embodies her character in every sense, it’s a remarkable performance (I smell Oscar buzz). There is so much vibrant character and storytelling – all through Stone’s performance, however, once you actually realise the breadth of depth to the character of Bobby Riggs, you may agree in my thinking that he was rather underdeveloped in the film.
There is a chance this is intentional as the women overcoming oppression is the figurehead of this film. Still, it can come across as more of a Billie Jean King biopic, highlighted by the subplot being centred around King also which works but it can feel intrusive on the main plot throughout the movie.
Aside from that small issue, the tonal consistency in the movie is truly commendable, there is a terrific effort made to not demonize Bobby Riggs as per Billie Jean King’s own words “he was one of my idols” – it was just an act and the film does a great job of painting these two characters lives outstandingly, it is a very human telling of true events and as said is just having a bit fun while presenting the issues and not trying to turn the film into a rallying cry.
The direction of the film is done very well, it does a great job of accompanying the embodying performances by really becoming a ‘film made in the 70s’ rather than a film made to look like the 70s. A credit to the cinematography but mainly to, the production design and costumes, they are fantastic, it all aids the film massively and helps to engage you as the audience member, tennis is made barmy and equitably interesting. Which is what this movie does utterly right, it engages you enough with the source material that you leave wanting to know more about these characters, as I left I wanted to see if Bobby Riggs actually did dress in a Miss Bow Peep outfit. It just proves that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
In this entertaining story of issues still ever-present in our society today, there is still a lot of fun to be had. The characters are embodied remarkably, sadly Riggs is slightly underdeveloped and the movie is more of a Billie Jean King biopic. Still, it manages to make the world of tennis vibrant and interesting and perhaps rather mad. Come for the fun, leave with a curiosity.