Film Review: Battle of the Sexes

The match is set; a stand-off between a woman and a man; the man, a chauvinist who thinks he is better than any woman in the game of tennis; the woman, a strong, determined and ruthless competitor. The match already took place, in 1973 no less, yet the issues plaguing the game, the gender issues that were relevant then, are still relevant now, which is a problem. Regardless of who won (if you don’t already know, you are a couple words away from finding out on Goggle), the real issue present is that a battle of sexes in 2017 shouldn’t exist, but it does. So the question remains, who really won in 1973? 

While anyone born after 1973 don’t really know anything about the infamous match between the macho-showman Bobby Riggs and female rights activist Billie Jean King, the newest film from directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valarie Faris, the team that brought us Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks does a wonderful job of setting up a very relevant film for young and older people alike. While Battle of The Sexes misses the charm of Little Miss Sunshine and the imagination of Ruby Sparks, the flair that Dayton and Paris bring is a vintage stylistic that helps drive the narrative; even though the film doesn’t really need it. While the film at times, seems to act almost identically to Bobby Riggs, played lively by Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes is hardly a film about tennis, which becomes apparent quite quickly, and more about the build up of two very different individuals, using an infamous match for their own personal gain; one, financially and for monetary gain, the other, for change and action.

Billie Jean King played by the nerdy and bashful Emma Stone, does have her spotlight within Battle of the Sexes. King, who is almost immediately labelled as the protagonist in the film, facing many personal conflicts that preens themselves annoyingly upon the build up of the iconic match. Stone, coming off her Academy Award for playing the tap-dancing, lovably heart-broken Mia in La La Land, brings an authenticity to King, a hard-hitting, truth telling, tough as nails professional tennis player who hardly takes no for an answer. Still alive and paving various paths for woman even in 2017, this vanguard of woman’s rights explores ideas of lesbianism, true love and most of all, the equality of female competitive sports and their valour and level of respect that is already present in male sports entertainment.

While Faris and Dayton do a wonderful job of building up their two main set-pieces, showcasing many of what may have gone right for one, and wrong for the other, the duo never really explore the dynamics of the tennis world and how woman and men were perceived in the seventies and how the sport has gone to change today. This is not to say, that I am a tennis aficionado by any means, but even today, woman and men play in separate leagues in tennis. So what does this say about the film? Does one triumph over the other? What changes did this match make and how did King progress her woman’s liberation movement? Is tennis the one sport that women are paid equally to men?

It is not shocking to see that, even without even doing any research, women’s sports struggle to find an audience. Most of the televised sports are male sports, with the exception of the Olympics, that happen bi-yearly. Upon further research, I was not shocked to see that the top-seeded male tennis player averages a salary more than double the female top-seeded player. So, my one and only question for Battle of the Sexes is, what exactly has changed since 1973? Is this film another attempt to shed light on the very obvious gender defamation of female athletes? Why are women’s sports not televised unless for special events? What are we doing to change this, other than making a very appealing and stylized film with some very attractive stars?

While Battle of the Sexes does have very deep and powerful messages, as well as compelling speeches and monologues by both protagonists, the uber exciting and explorative final epilogue, full of images and captions about the change the match did to present day sports, Battle of the Sexes is a very anti-climatic inspiration sports story, with very little sports and more of a playful attitude towards change that could have been more relevant. The battle the film faces mostly, is the one deciding whether it is just a sports biography, or an agent of real change.

Battle of the Sexes is a Hollywood film through-and-through. With immensely powerful and effective supporting performances from everyone involved, from Elisabeth Shue (a real tennis lover and an actress initially interested in playing King), to Sarah Silverman, who provides the majority of the film’s comedy and humour, from the the women’s side of the film. In addition, Andrea Riseborough does a wonderful job of presenting Stone’s king with a very worthy distraction and is solid throughout the film; a real undervalued actress. My favourite supporting performance comes in the form of King’s stylist Ted Tinling, played by the always wonderful Alan Cumming, who provides the film with the most authentic and relevant monologue of the film, although it is somewhat ambiguous.

While Battle of the Sexes is nothing short of enjoyable and entertaining, sadly, the main battle the film fights with between two very talented and convincing actors, trying to possible vie for Oscar gold in 2018. Battle of the Sexes will more than likely NOT be a vehicle for Academy Awards attention, nor will it be an agent of change to the sports system and capitalist way people consume professional sports, which is sad, because the film has immense potential for being a driving force of positivity and peace. The battle is far from over, and the war between gender is just beginning, but the truth of the matter is, peace and resolution is the real ingredient needed to find some sort of solution for gender equality, not only in sports, but in the world as a whole.

Night Film Reviews: 6.5 Out of 10 Stars.

How much did you enjoy Battle of the Sexes? What did you think of Emma Stone of Billie Jean King? What did you think of Steve Carell in the very animated role of Bobby Riggs? Is Battle of the Sexes an Oscar film that we took too seriously? Leave your battle wounds and thoughts below. 

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