1973: a time when the women’s rights movement was in full swing of the quest to be treated equally and given the same opportunities and rights that men had. Also around that time, a controversial hustling tennis player Bobby Riggs (played by Steve Carell) challenged any female tennis player to beat him on the court just to prove his misogynistic ideals after beating Margaret Court (portrayed by Australia’s Jessica McNamee). And who will prove him wrong? World Champion of the women’s series, Billie Jean King (played by Emma Stone) after she got kicked out of the Tennis Association along with other female tennis players to start their own organisation. And so all bets were made in the most viewed tennis match on television known as the Battle of the Sexes. It’s a shame that the majority of this film didn’t focus on that match.
It focuses more on the things that happen behind the scenes in the days leading up to it, with Billy Jean King’s lesbian relationship with her hair stylist Marilyn (played by Andrea Riseborough) taking the majority of the running time. Bobby Riggs, his misogynist ideals, and his gambling problem take up the second most amount of screen time, and we spend whatever time remains on the actual tennis match. There’s nothing wrong with a lesbian love story as that’s very rare in cinema today, and important for representation- but when the title of film suggests that it’s about the epic tennis match, and the poster features Stone and Carell with a tennis ball bomb, we build up this film to be about the actual match. It’s the same problem I had with Red Dog: True Blue where the title of the film – what we were promised – takes up little time, and the majority of the film looks at something different. And on top of that, when we get to the actual Battle of the Sexes, it goes by quickly and it doesn’t become very interesting or intriguing.
But there are some great things about this picture. Stone and Carell are both fantastic as leads. Stone has an inspiring attitude as the famous tennis player, and she makes the viewer sympathise with her struggles. Meanwhile, Carell as the uncanny Bobby Riggs brings a comedic showman vibe. He gets a little unlikeable at times, but the film does bring a human side to him through it’s portrayal of his gambling problem. And the supporting cast (McNamee, Riseborough, Alan Cumming, Sarah Silverman and Bill Pullman) were just as good as the leads in this film.
Furthermore, there’s a stunning 19070s summer feel with its production design, and the colour graded tint. The cinematography becomes a little dull as it just focuses on single shots, zooming in and out once in a while. It would have been great for the cinematographer to go beyond zooming in and out of a far away shot, especially during the actual tennis match. It just goes by quickly, and nothing in the shot is interesting.
Overall, the film is good. It has a great cast that look identical to the actual players (see the end credit photos if you don’t believe me), good humour at certain moments, an intriguing story, and a great 1970s look. But it doesn’t focus on what the marketing said it would focus on, and it doesn’t treat the actual match as anything interesting. I reckon feminists, the LGBTQ community, and anyone who feels passionate about equality in society will like this more than sports fans.