Starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, “Battle of the Sexes” is based on the real-life tennis rivalry between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Shot on 35mm film, the movie perfectly captures the 1970s vibe. More than that, it aptly captures King’s struggle against the misogyny of the early 1970s and her fight for workplace equality between the sexes, on the court and elsewhere.
The film’s plot rests firmly on its characters’ shoulders. Carell’s performance as Riggs is as entertaining as “The Office’s” Michael Scott, yet as psychologically complex as “Foxcatcher’s” John du Pont. I was fascinated by the strange balance between Riggs’ gambling addiction, chauvinistic showmanship and genuine love for the sport. The added factor of a deteriorating home life had me fully invested in the character, and I wish Carell had gotten a bit more screen time to explore such a complicated man’s life.
Somewhat dishearteningly, Emma Stone didn’t quite do it for me in her role as King. Stone’s performance was great when paired against Carell and when on the court. Unfortunately, the digressive, overly long love story jammed into the narrative took away from both Stone’s performance and the story as a whole.
The film would have definitely benefitted from a lighter tone and a much shorter love story subplot. I get that coming out as a lesbian was a defining moment in King’s life, but the huge amount of time dedicated to it halted the competitive momentum being built up throughout the film.
Stone’s performance was also sold almost solely on her fight for equality, which could’ve been an inspiring role, but that’s actually where the film stumbles. When the film presents sexism against women in cheeky spectacle, the message for equality is conveyed strongly and effectively, and it’s actually a lot of fun.
You root for the underdog, especially when the stakes involve something as important as proving sexism is wrong. However, when you’re constantly being battered on the head with uncommitted, stilted dialogue, this kind of message comes across as superficial or insincere.
Though at times flawed in its execution, “Battle of the Sexes” offers a topical examination on women’s struggles against inequality. It’s a great film when focusing on the “Battle” aspect, but only an okay one when focusing on the “Sexes.” Carell’s amazing performance alone warrants this film a viewing.
For the fun and the tennis:
Hector Valverde is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @hpvalverde.