Looking back on ‘Battle of the Sexes’ – based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs – I realize that it is a true product of its time; from the 70’s-style version of the Fox Searchlight Pictures logo, and its fuzzy, yet dim, VHS cassette tape look, to its timely look at sexuality and equal rights. Everything about this biographical sports drama – directed by the husband-and-wife duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (‘Little Miss Sunshine’, ‘Ruby Sparks’) – was made to be put into a time capsule for the Academy to view nearly 45 years later, but not before letting the world view what was inside. It is a fascinating spectacle that manages to be entertaining, charming, and triumphant!
One cannot see ‘Battle of the Sexes’ and not feel a glimmer of Emma Stone’s toothy smile and determined nature in her turn as King; who was a champion tennis player, as well as an advocate for equal rights; (The role was played by Holly Hunter in Jane Anderson’s 2001 film ‘When Billie Beat Bobby’) the same could be said for Steve Carell’s portrayal of Riggs, (Portrayed by Ron Silver in ‘When Billie Beat Bobby’) where he yuks it up during practice sessions where he hits the balls with a frying pan while jokingly saying “I’m cooking!”, or by dressing up as Little Bo Peep, whose sheep are running rampant on the court. All this makes him more of an entertainer than the “male chauvinist pig” he claims to be. Both Stone and Carell are entertaining to watch. As King and Riggs, they are as immersed as you expect them to be. I expect both to get nominations in the acting categories for next year’s Oscars; and I would not be surprised if ‘Battle of the Sexes’ gets a shot at fitting in the ‘Best Picture’ category as well.
Like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, ‘Battle of the Sexes’ has a charm that keeps you invested in the road its characters take until it reaches its destination; an event which the title has led up to that is just as impressive, maybe even more so than imagined. Only the road in ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is a figurative one. Both King and Riggs face challenges in their personal lives, especially in an era so politically charged. King, along with many other women, including the chain-smoking founder of ‘World Tennis’ magazine, Gladys Heldman, (Sarah Silverman) believe they are not getting paid as much as the men who have a “Keep dreaming” attitude over the issue. It is the same attitude of Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) that makes it hard for King. While all this is going on, she is dealing with the budding of a romance between her and hairstylist, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) while being married to Larry King. (Austin Stowell)
Riggs, on the other hand, is living high on the hog; but not even his million dollar mansion or the love of his wife, Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue) can stop his gambling addiction. Every night, Riggs is out with his buddies, making some bets while playing some ridiculous games for fancy new cars, with Priscilla nearing quits in their marriage. This does not stop Riggs from calling King up for a tennis match in the middle of the night to prove that “men are the superior species”. Reluctant at first, King accepts after seeing a match between Riggs and her rival Margaret Cort. (Jessica McNamee) From there, we reach the ‘Battle of the Sexes’.
I was, sadly, born two decades after the event was televised; yet I cannot truly be sad. Getting to see ‘Battle of the Sexes’ was an immersive experience. For two hours, I felt as if was in 1973, especially with the dramatization of an actual event happening before my eyes. For once, I was a spectator in the crowd. With each ball getting hit, tensions were rising. Don’t believe me? What if I told you that I heard applause from each point King made? You should also see it for yourself.