Although Battle of the Sexes is slightly unbalanced, strong performances and inventive cinematography make this film worth seeing.
Battle of the Sexes tells the story of the widely publicized tennis match between Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). While the outcome of the game is a matter of public record, this narrative fills the audience in on the backstory that ultimately leads to this match. Women on the tennis tour were grossly underpaid, and when word leaked that the prize money for the men was now eight times greater than the ladies, a group of women took a stand. King (Emma Stone) and a group of women’s tennis players broke away from the USLTA to form the Virgina Slims tour. The idea behind the split was to generate bigger prizes for the ladies and better exposure for these players. However, the most intriguing part of this narrative was King’s struggle with who she was genuinely attracted to.
The first encounter between King and Marilyn Barnett (the tours hairdresser who was played by Andrea Riseborough) was electric. Everything in this scene looks and feels real. Barnett can see through King’s public persona and recognizes her worth and actual beauty. Stone portrays the tennis legend as more in love with her success than her actual life. Finding true love breathes life into a part of her life which was dead.
According to Indiewire, Academy Award Winning Cinematographer Linus Sandgren sought to create a nostalgic vibe when he shot the film. For starters, he shot the story with 35 mm film. This technique created a visual look that was reminiscent of the seventies. Sandgren also pushes the nostalgic envelope by making use of a more organic palette using browns and earthy tones to add another layer of authenticity.
Carell’s portrayal of Riggs was larger than life. His performance was the perfect mix of Michael Scott with a dash of a hustler. Riggs was always looking for the next great angle and how he could make the most money. He missed the limelight and being the male chauvinist villain allowed him to be in the spotlight. There was no difference between a professional wrestler today and what Bobby Riggs did during this period.
Writer Simon Beaufoy’s narrative struck the appropriate balance between the portions of the film dealing with advancing the perception of women in sports and King’s self-discovery. One of the more striking moments was towards the end of the movie when Stone’s character is the locker room post-match crying hysterically. This breakdown was the first moment in the film where the weight of this match had got to King. Sandgren pulled the shot in extremely close so that we all were witness to this moment of vulnerability. The only other time the camera pulls in that close is when she’s with Mrs. Barnett. While the event was a made for TV spectacle, we were to see the human side of this story.
The score was upbeat and made good use of a synthesizer which had everyone tapping their toes.
What Didn’t Work
The portions of the film which addressed Riggs and his issues tend to drag on. The only thing that drew my interest in those scenes was being able to watch Carrell pull of playing Riggs. There was also this portion which dealt with Bobby’s marital woes. While it appears these scenes serve as a reminder to why Riggs dreamt up the match, this part of the film could have easily taken out, and we all could have moved on.
While Battle of the Sexes is not a perfect film, it’s charming enough to warrant seeing in the theater. Stone and Carell are marvelous, and the messages this movie teaches is fantastic. Don’t expect any buyers remorse after seeing this release. But expect to walk out of the theater feeling empowered.