Is it as good as the TV movie? Does it accurately represent the real story? Beats me, but ‘Battle of the Sexes’ did succeeded in making me interested in tennis for two whole hours.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the duo behind ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ ‘Battle of the Sexes’ follows both Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in the events leading up to their titular match. King, amidst a rebellion against The United States Lawn Tennis Association over equal pay, tries to keep a blooming affair with another woman secret. Bobby struggles with a gambling addiction and marital problems.
The story of King’s struggle for equality could not be more pertinent than it is today, a fact of which I’m sure Fox Searchlight is acutely aware. Nevertheless, the film does a good job of capturing her determination, both on the court and off, and balancing her personal life with her professional one.
Though King is clearly the focus, the filmmakers spend time garnering sympathy for the cartoonish Riggs, a self described male chauvinist pig. Sure, he represents a dying social hierarchy, but he’s portrayed as funny, sad, magnetic even. The film also insinuates that his goofy brand of sexism is little more than an act for publicity.
Was this true for the actual Bobby Riggs? Well I wasn’t there, but it works for the film. Complicated characters are more interesting.
That’s why the only real problem with the film is its villain—One Dimensional Sexist Boss Trope (Bill Pullman). Was the real Jack Kramer that much of a d*ck? Probably, but as a character this feels like pandering. He seems copy pasted into the movie just so you have someone to throw popcorn at.
Otherwise, Dayton and Faris did well with their large cast. Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming in particular really stood out despite limited screen time. Cumming, however—if I can put on my nitpicking cap—states the theme of the movie in a line of dialogue so on the nose that he might as well have looked into the camera and winked.
Now, let’s finally get it out of the way. You don’t need to actually see the movie to know that Stone and Carell did an incredible job—they always do. I imagine every reviewer will serve up volleys of their praise alongside bad tennis puns, so I won’t waste your time. Everything they touch turns to gold. Moving on…
Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t care if a movie is faithful to the source material as long as it’s a good movie (See: Stanley Kubrik). Despite some instances where it feels like the movie knows it’s a movie, I found ‘Battle of the Sexes’ delightful.
Photo courtesy of RogerEbert.com
‘Battle of the Sexes’ hits theaters September 22nd