Three out of Four
You don’t have to love tennis to love “Battle of the Sexes.”
The 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) comes to life in “Battle of the Sexes.” For Riggs, it’s just another hustle, for King it’s an opportunity to prove that women deserve to be on the court.
Even though the film is based on the real life match between King and Rigg, but the focus is on the personal lives of King and Riggs just as much as their tennis worlds.
Riggs is a has-been tennis champion pushing 55 years. He gambles his money away in ludicrous matches where he plays tennis while wearing swimming flippers or in a Little Bo Peep outfit with sheep on the court. Carell is able to play the not-as-likeable character in a way that makes him understandable and fun to watch.
King on the other hand, is an up-and-coming athlete who creates an all-female tennis tournament to protest their unequal pay. King also deals with issues in her personal life as she begins to question her sexuality and marriage. These issues eventually begin to affect her performance on the court, making everyone wonder if she’s fit to play Riggs.
While acting by Stone and Carell makes their characters believable, true authenticity comes from their appearances. Stone disappears into the look of King, making her almost unrecognizable as the girl who was la-laing around the land just last year. Same with Carell; his voice, appearance and teeth make him seem like a completely different person.
Other time-period elements — clothing, hairstyles, cars and music — help make the film feel like a time machine trip to the ’70s. When characters watch the game, it has that grainy appearance and scratchy sound of the era.
“Battle of the Sexes” is also unwavering in its message: equality. While some might think the message is a little overbearing, it is the issue at the core of the game, so it’s logical it would be the driving force of the film. The film emphasizes those moments as well, a snide comment here, a sports commentator’s remark there and the men who run the tennis world who repeatedly say that women aren’t as athletic, competitive or entertaining to watch and can’t handle the pressure of a real game. These are beliefs that are used to justify paying women less and are the very reason King takes on Riggs in the first place — to prove them wrong, not just for herself but for all female athletes.
“Battle of the Sexes” is the perfect trip back in time to witness a historic moment in athletics, and the film is a home run, or in tennis parlance, an ace.