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In the wake of the sexual revolution and the rise of the women's movement, the 1973 tennis match between women's world champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-men's-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as the BATTLE OF THE SEXES and became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time, reaching 90 million viewers around the world. As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicked into high gear, off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. The fiercely private King was not only championing for equality, but also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, as her friendship with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) developed. And Riggs, one of the first self-made media-age celebrities, wrestled with his gambling demons, at the expense of his family and wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis court, sparking discussions in bedrooms ... Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Emma Stone and Steve Carell carry an uplifting, but overlong sports film
Battle of the Sexes is a an enjoyable retelling of the famous 1973 tennis match between 29-year-old Billie Jean King and 55-year-old Bobby Riggs. It was the match that sparked the women's movement in sport and planted King's status as the greatest tennis player in the world. We witness the personal journey she went though as she fought for equal rights in sports and society.
Emma Stone portrays Billie Jean King as a shy and reserved opportunist who's looking to make the best of her current situation. She's a true trailblazer that's pushing for equal rights for women in sports. Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs could not be more opposite from King. He's a retired tennis champion who can't stop gambling, which frustrates his wife to the point of no return. He's also a male chauvinist who believes in the superiority of men and how women should stay in the kitchen. It couldn't be a better battle between polar opposite personalities and motives.
The film follows the parallel journeys King and Riggs go through to get to their famous match. King struggles to gain equal pay for women tennis players, which eventually leads to the creation of her own women's tennis league. While traveling for matches, she discovers her homosexuality with her hairdresser, Marilyn. She's torn between her new desires and the life she already has with her husband, Larry. Riggs meanwhile is stuck in a midlife crisis and feels that his life has been missing something since he retired. He's passing his time through gambling and wants to plan a major comeback in the tennis world. Eventually their paths cross and results in one of the biggest and important sporting events in history.
Clocking in at 121 minutes, the film takes its sweet time to build up King and Riggs' story. While it's interesting to see their stories unfold, it goes on for too long and drags in the middle parts just before the climactic match. The sharing of screen time is also very lopsided towards King while Riggs is treated almost like a supporting character for the first hour.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris use their skills from Little Miss Sunshine to create a personal and emotional film. The tone of the film is pretty lighthearted and never gets too serious about the whole situation of equal rights among genders. It allows for a more feel-good sports film that is enjoyable to watch.
Shot in 70's style makes the film feel closer to a television documentary than a Hollywood production. There's a grab bag of awkward close-ups, grainy images, and off-balance shots that make the film feel more authentic and grounded in reality. The famous match is recreated with stunning detail and the biggest highlight of the film.
The acting is the saving grace of the film as Stone and Carell do an exceptional job portraying the real players. Golden Globe nominations will come for each of them and maybe even an Academy Award nomination for Stone. Sarah Silverman also shines as the rough and confident manager, Gladys. She plays well off Stone in the small amount of time she gets. Andrea Riseborough is solid as King's lover, Marilyn, who opens up King's hidden secrets and is the leading contributor to the emotional arc. Bill Pullman is the only person who doesn't pull of their role, as his sexist boss character is very one dimensional and almost cartoonish by the end.
Battle of the Sexes is a well acted and uplifting sports film that suffers from being too slow and too long. It doesn't run as smoothly as it should, but is enjoyable enough to rank among the better sports films out there, and definitely the best tennis film.
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