BY PAUL HALL
Although I was only a pint-sized version of myself in 1973, I heard about the battle that had the country’s attention and knew the sides being drawn. In the new film Battle of the Sexes, the men are pitted against the women as that battle—the memorable tennis match—plays out at the Houston Astrodome.
Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was successful on the men’s tennis circuit. Now, over 50 years old, his time on the court is spent hustling the men who challenge him. If there’s money on the line, he wants it and will do anything to get it.
Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) has just become the first woman in the history of tennis to earn more than $100,000 in one year playing the game she loves. She is at the top of her game, holding the No. 1 ranking in the sport.
King has one complaint: The pay disparity in the game. She believes she can do better and bands together with her manager Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) and several of the top women in professional tennis to set sail into uncharted waters, forming their own tennis circuit.
Before the tour starts, King meets hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). This chance meeting will be crucial in helping King understand the person she is and learning to express herself. Barnett’s presence lifts a weight that had been planted firmly on King’s shoulders and helps her grow fully into the woman she desires to be.
Meanwhile, Riggs still dreams of the big payday. He takes on the role of the perfect villain as the male chauvinist who wants to show the dominance of his gender. Courting King at every turn, Riggs tries pushing every button, continually suggesting they play an exhibition match against each other.
One day, King finally gives in. And thus starts an intense press run-up to one of the most memorable sporting events that the world has experienced.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris were the team behind Little Miss Sunshine, and their ability to mix comedy with dramatic subject matter comes through like a ray of light. Couple their talents with a cast including Stone, Carell, Riseborough and others, and you have a match-winning formula. Riseborough is a revelation as Marilyn. She brings a conflicted, yet loving, personality to life, someone who only wants to help.
My chief complaint is although it is a two-hour film, it just scratches the surface of the complex pieces of this puzzle. From Riggs’s past successes on the court to the relationship he forged with King, there seems to be substantial details left out of the film. And while we witness the centerpiece match in adequate depth, the epilogue is all that remains to springboard into King’s future efforts to solidify equal pay and LGBTQ rights. But a feature film’s length can’t show off the depth of what was at play with each lob and volley.
Not a smash, but definitely a winner, this film will stick with me, and it should make any viewer appreciate Billie Jean King more than ever. Two people from different backgrounds do battle and ultimately discover a mutual respect for each other, despite the public discourse. Seems to me a lot of people, on every level and every side, could learn a thing or two from these individuals.
Paul’s Grade: B+
Battle of the Sexes
Stars: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
2017 All Rights Reserved. Villager Publishing |