Billie Jean King wanted to prove all the self-proclaimed male chauvinists wrong when she played Bobby Riggs in 1973. His claim was that men were better than women, not just in tennis but in general, and a large majority of the population believed that as well. After denying his requests to play, King finally decided to give in and change the way people viewed women’s tennis. Battle of the Sexes is the story of that match, but more importantly, it’s about King’s emotional journey as she deals with the pressures of misogyny and her own sexuality.
Both Emma Stone and Steve Carell shine in their roles as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs respectively. Their characters are complete opposites, but they’re both very entertaining in their own way. Riggs was a grand, showy entertainer, and that shows in Carell’s performance. He’s a jerk, but a likeable jerk, and his antics are very amusing, even though we as an audience don’t condone them.
Stone captures the internal struggle that King was experiencing at the time very well. She is put under a lot of emotional strain as Riggs publicly torments her, and she also deals with shame and guilt when she begins to act on her homosexual feelings. The real human trials of the true-life tennis player are brilliantly realized, and Emma Stone blends into the role in a way that I haven’t seen her do in a very long time.
I genuinely appreciated the cinematography and visual style of Battle of the Sexes that is very reminiscent of films of the seventies. The subtle details in color and framing make this a visually transporting film that immerses you in its environment. As a based-on-a-true-story movie, it does its job of portraying the time period nearly perfectly. I loved the musical choices and the production design that all contributed in making this a truly authentic film experience.
Although the performances are solid and the story is inspiring, the plot isn’t perfectly paced. Most noticeably, there’s a jarring shift in tone around the end of the second act. Much of the beginning of the film is more focused on King’s personal life and her secret romance with a woman she meets at a hair salon. Bobby Riggs pesters her about the match he wants, but she pushes that to the side and focuses on her own tournament. As soon as she accepts the offer to play, the film becomes a motivational sports movie complete with a training montage and an exciting climactic scene featuring the big tennis match.
I enjoyed both parts of the film, even though they felt very different in tone, but I wish they had been interwoven a bit more seamlessly. The pacing could have been a bit smoother if the two contrasting tones had been blended throughout the entire film. It’s still enjoyable to watch, though, largely due to the entertaining characters and the very fascinating true story. Both the more emotional, romantic side of the film and the triumphant sports story are very enlightening, and the movie as a whole is one that deserves to be seen because of the important story it tells.
— Camden McDonald