Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Running Time: 121 mins
Battle Of The Sexes is an American film about the true story of Billie Jean King, World No. 1 women’s tennis player who fought for equality in the sport and more widely, with her fight to prove women as true equals with men culminating in a one-off match against self-styled ‘male chauvinist’ Bobby Riggs.
On the one hand, this is a very interesting history that’s portrayed with a convincing atmosphere throughout, setting you as firmly as possible in the 1970s, but on the other, it’s a film that fails to really grab you with its core message, rather playing out in somewhat predictable fashion instead of focusing on getting you onto one side and working from there, which ultimately works out as a real missed opportunity.
When looking at the film’s positives, we have to start from the fact that it does tell a good history about Billie Jean King and her role in the feminist movement of the 1970s, as well as the wider changing of perceptions and attitudes that went on at the time, an interesting story that’s told well throughout. Also, if you’re a tennis fan, you’ll like that there’s a good amount of on-court action as well, and the film portrays her as just as much of a tennis icon as a feminist icon, meaning that she’s a very engaging and well-rounded lead character.
Another big positive is the way that the film portrays the time period. We see the 1970s shown in all sorts of ways nowadays, ranging from dark and gritty to flat-out goofy, but this film does a really good job at showing the time period in a convincing and engaging manner. That’s not just from the excellent costume and production design, but also the general feel of the film, which combines a love for the 70s’ more specific characterstics (whether they be in fashion or more widely in society), with a more modern and level-headed outlook on storytelling. As such, the film never gets dragged into an overly serious atmosphere, nor one that’s just about 70s nostalgia, which means that there’s still a good amount of focus kept on the story at hand.
When it comes to that story, however, that’s where things didn’t really work quite so well for me. While it is an undoubtedly interesting history, this film fails to bring you into the story on any deeper a level than it simply being a history documentary.
For starters, given that the film centres on Billie Jean King’s role in fighting for women’s equality, I expected this film to have a real passion behind it, bringing you in to will her on alongside all the women fighting for a fair chance in society alongside the men. However, given the fact that it feels more like a historical account, it doesn’t do enough to show you why her fight mattered so much at the time, apart from the occasional derogatory comment from a man, leaving her cause in this film significantly downplayed from the reality.
Another big issue is that the film doesn’t do enough to make her adversaries particularly unlikable. While it’s good to see that the film doesn’t take any hard-line agenda in demonising men, I would have liked to see the men that are effectively the bad guys in this movie be shown in somewhat more of a dim light than just people who make throwaway remarks from time to time.
The biggest case in point of that problem is how Bobby Riggs, the man who challenges Billie Jean to the big match. While he’s an arrogant, outspoken and controversial figure, the film’s comedic atmosphere leads you to see him in an excessively positive light, with Steve Carell’s strong performance turning him into a rather charismatic and funny personality in the middle of an otherwise rather dry film.
As a result, I didn’t feel frustrated and annoyed by the people who are publicly trying to deny the concept of women’s equality, simply because they offered up some of the most entertaing moments of the film, leaving the story about Billie Jean’s struggle feeling a little watered-down as a result.
Overall, I did like Battle Of The Sexes, but largely from a historical standpoint. As a film, I felt that it didn’t quite achieve what could have been in grabbing you and making you feel really passionate about its story and the cause at hand, often even shooting itself in the foot by portraying the bad guys in an unexpectedly positive light, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.3.