Battle of the Sexes (2017) – Film Review
I was vaguely aware of the curious slice of 1973 that saw Women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King take on ageing former men’s champion Bobby Riggs in a contest – men vs women – the story arrives during a modern atmosphere of recurring sexism and equal pay arguments which shows that the issues raised during the Women’s Lib movement are still issues to some extent today.
Shot on film, directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton achieve a neatly packaged movie that has the warm look of something that was shot during the 1970s, with the well written script that shows what lay beneath the surface of the two main protagonists – King and Riggs.
It turns out that Riggs was far more than the self-styled “chauvinist pig’ – the versatile Steve Carell puts up a great performance as the charismatic former sportsman who was over the hill in a sporting sense but knew how to hustle to maximise the publicity and available purse for this one-off exhibition match against the background of marriage strain with his wife Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue) who both loves him and also ironically bankrolls him despite his gambling addiction.
King is portrayed brilliantly by Emma Stone as the consummate driven professional, at the peak of her powers, but distracted by the realisation of her romantic feelings for another woman despite the support of her husband.
Sympathetic characterisations help the flow of Battle of the Sexes
Bill Pullman plays the token antagonistic role as the very sexist tennis commentator and promoter who tries to thwart the formation of the fledgeling Women’s Tennis Association after trying to fob off women with prize money of just an eighth of men’s.
King’s corner is packed with sympathetic characters including her husband Larry (Austin Stowell) and Alan Cumming in a paternal role as her dress designer Ted Tinling and Sarah Silverman as Gladys Heldman, the agent who secures lucrative sponsorship to get the women’s tour on its feet.
Front and centre of King’s story, though, is hairdresser Marilyn Barnett, played with subtlety by Andrea Riseborough, as the potential threat to her marriage to Larry as she embarks on an affair with her.
There’s a little bit of gloss in the story for the purposes of simplifying things but it never affects the flow of the film which moves well and kept me engaged throughout the running time – it’s well worth a look.
Battle of the Sexes (12A; infrequent moderate sex; 121 minutes)
Director(s): Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Cast Includes: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, Chris Parnell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Martha MacIsaac, Natalie Morales, Eric Christian Olsen, Jessica McNamee, Austin Stowell, Wallace Langham
Summary: BATTLE OF THE SEXES is a US comedy drama, based on real events in 1973, in which women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King takes up the challenge of former men’s champion Bobby Riggs to a winner-takes-all match.
Rating: **** (A glossy, amusing, and uplifting look at 1973 sporting history)