Director(s): Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman
The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs. (Source: IMDb)
Fresh off her Oscar success, Emma Stone continues to be a force to be reckoned in Battle of the Sexes with her sensitive and reverent portrayal of Billie Jean King. Nailing the mannerisms of the tennis legend, this is in many ways a more accomplished performance than her much celebrated turn in La La Land, however it is unlikely that she will repeat the success with some hot competition in that category this year already.
Steve Carell, who continues to surprise, gives a performance which is both unrecognisable from his usual fare and vastly different to his other performance in LFF film, Last Flag Flying. His incredible characterisation is particularly evident in the epilogue when we see the real Billie and Bobby, and his uncanny physical resemblance is almost hard to believe.
Having worked together previously on Crazy, Stupid, Love (albeit with a very different dynamic!), Carell and Stone have wonderful chemistry together, and whilst there aren’t too many scenes of them interacting together, they have a believable and fun rivalry when they do meet, and the brief scenes of them trash-talking each other truly sparkle.
Whilst Battle of the Sexes is most definitely classifiable as a “sports movie”, it doesn’t truly showcase this until the much-hyped final showdown, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Quite rightly focusing on the character of Billie Jean King, it sets to showcase what an incredible and influential figure she was, particularly in her fight for women’s equality in sport, and later for the LGBTQ+ community. Considerable amount of time is spent developing her character, and in particular her relationship with Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). It perhaps doesn’t truly emphasise how difficult the exploration of her sexuality would have been both in this time period, and as a prominent public figure, but it does sensitively portray their relationship, and Riseborough in particular is outstanding in their scenes.
The production design of Battle of the Sexes is particularly delightful, and feels time-period authentic which is obviously essential for a film like this. The cinematography has a lovely warm glow to it, as well as a graininess that adds to that sense of realism.
Whilst undoubtedly a crowd pleaser, Battle of the Sexes feels like it has a lot to accomplish and it doesn’t quite tie up all the threads that it needs to. However, it does at least lay the groundwork to ensure the finale is thrilling, and the stakes are suitably high. The match itself is a true spectacle, and surprisingly tense considering many know the outcome.
Sparkling, triumphant and full of joy, Battle of the Sexes also acknowledges that this was just a drop in the ocean for female equality, particular in the realm of sports. In trying to do too much it does feel a little rushed in places, but it is enjoyable fare nonetheless, with a particularly winning performance from Emma Stone. Definitely worth a watch!