Back in 1973 the world was without summer blockbusters, thousands of cable channels and Netflix. Programmers, advertisers and viewers created must see spectacles to keep themselves entertained whether it was Evel Knievel jumping buses or a professional male tennis player taking on a top female opponent. The new biopic Battle of the Sexes examines the events surrounding the inter-gender tennis match in the Astrodome with self-proclaimed chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs and the top female player Billie Jean King having a showdown to prove what sex is truly the best on the court.
Emma Stone and Steve Carell are dead ringers for their counterparts in Battle of the Sexes. The whole film itself is like a looking-glass into the early 1970s with the awkward wardrobe choices, catchy tunes and the males of the era trying to keeping the boys club intact. Even though this film’s title is taken from the event itself, much of the narrative deals with King’s romantic life and her battle with the WTA who vastly underestimated the financial value of women’s tennis.
The first half of Battle of the Sexes is a slow burn with King’s depiction before the media exposure is of a shy girl who only knows tennis and unsure of who she really is. Emma Stone is able to carry the audience through the downtime with her performance as the tennis icon who is scared to death to be herself while fighting for equal rights. Battle of the Sexes does take a while to find its groove dealing with King’s personal life, but part of the reward after all the build up is seeing the young woman come out of her shell and become the face of a movement.
Billie Jean King is definitely the most important figure in Battle of the Sexes, but Bobby Riggs is without a doubt the most entertaining character in the film thanks to an obnoxious, yet at times a sad portrayal from Steve Carell as the former tennis champ. Riggs is a fascinating character to watch as he goes pro wrestling heel to gain attention for himself. He’s rude, childish and a chronic gambler, but will somehow manage to charm you. All of this makes Carell’s depiction of Riggs the most fascinating role to watch as you see a sweet side of the villain that will garner him some pity, even though he dug the hole he is standing in.
The first half of Battle of the Sexes has a pace that drags at the start, but once Carell’s version of Bobby Riggs enters the story the film picks up in a major way. The talented group of actors really save this project for audiences members who maybe tempted to tune out of the love story angle that lacks chemistry in the first half. The entire cast which also includes Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman and Elisabeth Shue all do solid work backing up the two all important leads. Emma Stone and Steve Carell play perfectly off of one another as the two participants fighting for their respective genders while also bringing attention to their cause like King or themselves when it comes to Bobby Riggs’s. The end result is a film that struggles to find its footing at first, but turns into a crowd pleaser with an important message by the conclusion that is still prevalent today.
Overall, I give Battle of the Sexes 3 out of 4 stars.
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