"designed to make you laugh while still teaching a valuable lesson on how far we still have to go to achieve equal rights"
A movie representation of one of the most iconic and important moments in female sport’s history, Battle of the Sexes shows the behind the scene of the crucial tennis match played between the most successful female tennis player Billie Jean King and the chauvinistic representative of the competitive sports Bobby Riggs.
In 1973 women were not allowed to compete in their own category of tennis tournaments. However, no matter the success and the crowd attracted, they were still paid less than men. Tired and offended by the injustice, Billie Jean King sets out to prove a point; if women are not assigned an equal victory compensation to the one received by men, they will fund their own tournament on their own terms. Everything seems to be going great, funds start to flow in and the female players are finally free to play by their own rules, however the men of the game are not too pleased with this enormous success.
Giving voice to the discontent and ready to make the bet of his life is Bobby Riggs, a retired tennis winner and avid gambler, Riggs is sure that the safest bet of his life will be to convince the number one tennis player among women to play a match against him to prove that women indeed are inferior to men and their place is in the kitchen.
At first Billie Jean doesn’t want to fall for his little game, however, what can be more satisfying than proving a point while humiliating the gender that for years underestimated women and treated them as delicate flowers? The film touches on the most important and still discussed topics in modern society; equality between men and women as well as the tabu regarding sexuality and the need to stay in the closet for many athletes during that time.
In the 1970’s being chauvinistic was something men were proud of - Women were sticking their noses where it didn’t belong and they needed to be put in their places. The blunt insults and the remarks made to make women feel inferior were ever present in the movie and they allow the audience to feel the frustration felt by the women in the story that they had to live through it all.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris were able to show both the male and female perspective throughout the film; the two points of view were both strong and they influenced the scenography on the background; from the sharp and dark furniture of the men’s club to the more colourful rooms and places the female athletes visit on their tour, the settings change according to the characters involved in the scenes. Along with this sharp separation there is also the subtle presence of irony and comedy in the film; a signature of Dayton and Faris style and, in a way, the use of comedy allows for the important message to be made more strongly.
The cinematography moves from wide shots to close ups on the main characters to allow the audience to really read their souls. The camera is pushed close to the protagonists to highlight their strong emotions and reactions without being too intrusive.
The cast ensemble as a unit did a spectacular job in recreating this important moment in Feminism history. As support players Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming and Bill Pullman fulfil their roles and embraced their characters to a T.
For the first time Emma Stone didn’t play herself in a movie; long gone are the carefree jokes and smiling expressions. She completely understood Billie Jean’s complexity as a woman competing in a sport dominated by men and as a person battling with her own sexuality. She portrays King’s sense of duty and her frustration with the system and patriarchy truthfully and when her characters crumble, Stone’s performance reaches its peek.
Steve Carrell once again shows that underneath the comedian there is a talented actor who can play a complex character who hides behind a façade of strength and false pretences. Throughout the film, Riggs seems like a clown who wants to just prove a point and place a bet just for fun. However, in trying to prove to the world that men are far better than women in sports, he is just trying to reaffirm to himself that he can make it and he is still a winner and not just a retired gambler who is wasting his life. Carrell is capable of conveying all these contrasting characteristics in small expressions throughout the film and his Bobby Riggs becomes a complex character who is battling his own demons while also providing the story with the best comic relief moments to ease the tension in the film.
The themes discussed in the movie are unfortunately still pretty much contemporary and Battle of the Sexes is a reminder that there’s still have a long way to go. That women, men and the LGBTQ community have the power to make a change if they work together to fight the patriarchal system. In Battle of the Sexes this is underlined by the fact that not all the men in the movie are vile, small minded and chauvinistic “pigs”. Among some of them there are the ones that know how women can add value to society.
One of the greatest relationship in the film is the one between Billie and her husband. He fights alongside her. He believes in her strengths and he doesn’t feel emasculated by her. He is supportive without being dismissive or patronising. They both respect each other and Larry King is ready to sacrifice everything to see Billie fulfil her goals.
For a movie that's highly entertaining and uses comedy to ease the tension on screen, Battle of the Sexes is another film that is designed to make you laugh while still teaching a valuable lesson on how far we still have to go to achieve equal rights for women and the LGBTQ community.