The year is 1973 - women are paid less than men, and gay people are still closeted out of shame and fear of disownment. No, wait, that’s 2017... no 1973... wait...okay, okay, I think I’ve got it. We’re currently living in 2017 but the film I just saw is set in 1973 and it seems that in the 44 years since the events depicted in said film, nothing and everything has changed. But what could inspire such a change? They called it the ‘Battle of the Sexes’.
In the early 70s Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) was the number one tennis player in the world and a formidable advocate for equal pay and women’s liberation. Angry at the extreme lack of respect and equality towards female tennis players, she was black-balled from the USLTA and started her own women’s tennis tour. At the same time, self-proclaimed male chauvinist, former tennis great and compulsive gambler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was in need of a win. He was quite the showman, and with his reputation as a chauvinist (one of his better qualities) he cooked up the Battle of the Sexes exhibition match in search/need of regained fame and glory. At 29 years old, King was also battling demons - she was a fierce competitor who strived for nothing less than the best. She also struggled with her sexuality as she was married at the time and coming out would mean the loss of endorsements, reputation and career. Challenging the sports and male establishments head on, the Battle of the Sexes ended up being so much more than a money-and audience-grabbing spectacle to entertain the masses and the chance to shut up a bored senior tennis player.
Not only is this one of the greatest sporting stories of our time, it’s also simply a great story, period. While Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (‘Little Miss Sunshine’) have made a beautiful and retro-looking film that transports you effortlessly to this place and time, it is ultimately utterly weightless. The magnitude of this event as well as the true weight on a young Billie Jean King’s shoulders is never truly felt from an audience’s perspective. Almost half a century on, anyone tackling this tale has the benefit on hindsight - but here, Simon Beaufoy’s (‘Slumdog Millionaire’) screenplay takes no advantage of this fact and the film suffers for it. Even the film’s relevance to today seems lost.
...a beautiful and retro shot film that transports you effortlessly to this place and time it is ultimately utterly weightless.
Stone and Carell are mesmerising as per usual and have inhabited their real-life counterparts beautifully and respectfully. ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is a great looking film filled with wonderful performances, and it’s an engaging look into an event that changed the world, but if you’re looking for something to inspire you and a cause to get behind today, I’d suggest you start by looking out your window.