Hot Take: The re-telling of the famed Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” is crisp, compelling and, from all accounts, pretty accurate. Well done!
Being familiar with the story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and the eventual match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” but not being alive to experience the spectacle, the film re-telling gives anyone who wasn’t alive to experience the absorbing tale a new life and new audience to enjoy. In addition, the spot-on performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, respectively, are delightful to watch and breathe new life into a 44 year old story that feels as relevant as ever with its timing considering our current climate.
If there is a knock on Battle of the Sexes, the script doesn’t take a lot of chances. The risk-averse screenplay might be a little too basic for some but with the power of Stone and Carell behind the performances, this viewer at least felt like it was able to overcome the script’s shortcomings. There’s an element missing, too, in the dynamic of King and Riggs who became and remained friends through all of the spectacle and showmanship Riggs brought to the event to sell it for mass appeal. The actual “Battle of the Sexes” was viewed by 30,000+ spectators (the largest for a tennis event) and 90 million television viewers and much of that was thanks to Riggs’ chauvinist act leading up to the event which is re-created by Carell through a slickly comedic performance. Stone’s follow-up to La La Land is also a winning one as she strips away most of her quirkiness in an effort of mimicry of the well known, iconic tennis player she portrays.
The supporting cast is solid with Sarah Silverman and Bill Pullman in the most notable roles although neither performance carries a ton of weight. Alan Cumming also has a small part that is somewhat memorable. The focus, though, is on King and Riggs and the majority of the screen time is devoted to Stone and Carell and both do an admirable job of portraying the real life counterparts. The film also does a very good job of intersecting real footage into the film with scenes of Howard Cosell from the original broadcast.
Battle of the Sexes is a film that will likely remain on the periphery of Awards discussion. I’m not sure Stone’s performance is good enough to garner a nomination and Carell’s overall portrayal may be too one dimensional to stand out above the others but they will definitely make the conversation. Consider the film itself a long shot to make claim to a Best Picture nod for all the film does well, it’s fairly safe in it’s sticking to the story and misses a few opportunities to really dig in on some of the story’s more meaty details. (Like did Bobby Riggs throw the match? For one.) Even as much as I enjoyed the film, Battle of the Sexes isn’t good enough to make the Top 10 for the year with 3 months remaining in the year which means it will probably slide out of the Top 20 by the end of 2017. That being said, there’s plenty to like and plenty of reasons to go see what might be the best tennis film of all-time.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Stuff You Might Not Have Known
I never knew Billie Jean King was instrumental in the start of the WTA. There’s a few other factoids that were dropped throughout the film that I wasn’t aware of, either. It’s more than just a story of King vs. Riggs in a lot of ways even though you never lose sight of that being the main story.
- Rock Solid Stone
You get the idea Emma Stone really enjoyed portraying King. It feels as if she lost herself in this character more than others and whereas, in La La Land, she appeared to just be herself more often than not, in Battle of the Sexes, it felt like she had a more layered performances.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Portrayal of the King-Riggs Relationship
King and Riggs were actually very close friends and while much of that had to do with going through this spectacle together, up until the closing epilogue that rolls pre-credits, you get more of a hero-villain relationship. What doesn’t make sense is that these two appearing to be enemies never really adds anything to the film so you have to question why it was decided to portray the two in such a light.