Review: ‘Battle of the Sexes’

Quibbl reviews last year’s major sports movie spectacle – a biographical comedy-drama film, featuring Emma Stone and Steve Carell portraying legendary Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs

By Mikheil Shamugia

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As teasers and trailers of the film first started to emerge in between the live coverage of the US Open 2017, I was still under the influence of ‘La La Land’, the biggest movie of the past year. Emma Stone’s truly sparkling presence added to what was already a remarkable symphony of emotions embodied in a breathtaking musical drama. And whilst the masterpiece by Damien Chazelle and its leading actress managed to reap multiple prestigious awards, Emma Stone’s latest work doesn’t seem to get much attention even with the seemingly marketable cast members; aside from Emma Stone, there are also Steve Carell and Sarah Silverman. The film very realistically captures the socially significant undertaking that revolutionized the sport of tennis.

The makers of the film almost accepted the fact that by walking down this path and making this movie, it was not going to be a huge box office draw given its parochial storyline – tennis is not the most popular sport and the story certainly was not going to attract mass audiences. Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), world No. 2 at the time, along with Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), a magazine publisher, decided to start their own tennis tour after Pacific Southwest Championships’ 1970 decision to pay women 1/8th of what was paid to men. Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), a tennis commentator, after he was told that women sold the same number of tickets as men, simply replied that “the men are simply more exciting to watch. It’s not your fault; it’s just biology.” Meanwhile, we also get to see glimpses of Bobby Riggs’ (Steve Carrell) family life; he’s also a former No.1 men’s champion and a renowned tennis hustler & gambler, struggling to maintain his relationship with his wife. Looking for opportunities to get back into action, Riggs acquires the role of a chauvinist, denouncing women in sport and challenging Billie Jean for a match for $100,000. King refuses at first, but after seeing Bobby beat No.1 ranked woman player, Margaret Court, she felt the need to reciprocate. At the time, Billie Jean already had problems in her private life: she started an affair with her hairdresser, while married to her husband. The film beautifully explores King’s private life and unmasks the appearance illusion, that a “strong” self-starter feminist woman that she was – she still had difficulties in her life. It’s obviously a documentary – everyone knew Billie Jean was going to win the match, therefore the film was less plot-driven and more concentrated on characters, music and cinematography, much like La La Land. The adventurous vibe is present throughout both films as the soundtracks create a frivolous happy atmosphere and an euphoric sensation. The ever-present bliss and ecstasy even make the melancholic scenes more magical and a joy to watch. The music pumps the adrenaline of overcoming the hurdles and hardships in life and instantly transforms one into a jubilant state.

Emma Stone is largely responsible for such effects on screen; she naturally has that radiant force in her, that if she just chose to stand like a statue, she would still give off that beam of energy. That’s what made a blithe movie like ‘La La Land’ and a similar movie like ‘Battle of the Sexes’ so “effective.” Effective, but not successful, since ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is still considered a box office flop. No other actress comes to mind, who can carry such amount of weight on her shoulders so graciously and effortlessly. Both of the leading cast members also very much looked like the real people they represented; and Steve Carell definitely wasn’t new to playing “a male chauvinist pig” either. Although, Emma wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, she still got the nomination for the Golden Globes. The good thing is that she’s just 29 and we will probably see much more of her in the future.

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