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Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Battle of the Sexes (2017) is a comedic bio-pic that tells the story of the events that lead up to the Battle of the Sexes. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris, this film stars Emma Stone and Steve Carrell as the two tennis players who battled in the Battle of the Sexes, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. This movie primarily focuses on King and explores the ideas of sexuality, feminism and the struggle of a rising tennis player in the 1970s.

Battle of the Sexes film frame

Going into this film, I had never even heard of the Battle of the Sexes. I was aware of Billie Jean King and the influence she had as a female tennis player at the time, but that was about it. Tennis however has always been my favourite sport to watch, and probably will always be. I also love Emma Stone and is quite possibly my favourite actress working today, so that in itself is a draw for me to check this film out.

Just like with most bio-pics, quite like the backlash received recently with Bohemian Rhapsody, details and timelines are changed to make the story flow better. The changes here do seem to work in the case of a two-hour film, and as someone who didn’t know the original timeline of the events, I didn’t notice anything out of place or over-dramatised. Going back and researching the original events, the changes that are made were well done in order to tell a shorter story and to connect with all of the characters more.

Emma Stone as usual is fantastic in this film. This is not a dramatic awards-contender sort of film, but she gives more of a nuanced performance here as King. She stands out in this film as we King go through numerous hurdles to reach her end goal, and we get to follow that journey alongside her. Steve Carrell does a good job playing Riggs here as well, but with much less screen time his performance simply doesn’t come off as well or as fleshed out. In terms of the other cast members, they get less chance to shine and feel like they are simply there to drive the narrative forward.

Battle of the Sexes film frame
The main issue with this film comes down to the script and the story. Despite being called Battle of the Sexes, this is truly just a movie about King. In the first hour, there is little action or plan driven about the event, but rather just setting up all of the major characters in King’s life. This leads to a slow burner of a film, which does work for most films, but felt weak in this film. For the amount of background and back story we get for King, I truly felt nothing for any of the characters surrounding her.
A lot of the characters as a I said felt one-dimensional and daily there to drive the plot, and none more so than Bobby Riggs himself. Riggs has seemed to be written as a sexist who simply wants to shame female tennis players for his fame. I am not entirely sure if that is the case with the real Riggs or not, but I felt a true hatred for the character of Riggs in the film. I wouldn’t say it was a bad thing that the film almost degrade him to such a low character given that this is about King and her success, but a bit of balance would have rounded the film up a bit more.
The slow pace at the start lead for me to believe that the final half of the film would be a showstopper, and yet it almost didn’t. Yes, we finally get to the event of the Battle of the Sexes and how it came to be, but the best parts were when King and Riggs were doing their press and talking down at each other. Stone and Carrell had great chemistry working together and seemed to have a lot of fun, and I would have loved to see more of that come through. The climax of the film was well shot and executed, yet almost felt small for a match this big. 
Despite all that, this is still a fun and empowering movie to watch. This is a movie that adds commentary on sexuality and female empowerment, which are important messages to this day. This just shows how forward-thinking King was back in the 1970s and what a great inspiration she is. It also comments on the situation around tennis and equal pay, something that still doesn’t happen to this day. This film is a conversation starter, and I always appreciate films which make bold statements and push for what they believe in.
The beginning of the film could be a big of a drag, but with the compelling story and real life events being told well by Emma Stone and the rest of the cast makes you willing to watch it to see the end. This is a charming film that may succeed in every shot, but wins at the end. I would check it out if you haven’t yet.

Have you seen Battle of the Sexes yet? What did you make of it? Let me know in the comments below.

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