Emma Stone thrills in this exciting biopic of women’s tennis and the still all-too-familiar misogyny that surrounds it.
Battle of the Sexes recounts the real life events of a 1973 tennis match between top women’s player Billie Jean King and previous Wimbledon champion Billy Riggs. As one of the most watched tennis matches of all time, the events themselves are exciting enough without the movie adaption. However, the movie brings the players to life detailing not just their tennis personas but also their personal lives beneath. Some may criticise the film as going beyond the essential tennis, but if you wanted that you could just watch the match itself. Regardless, the recreation of the match is just as tense, with many sitting forwards in their seats during the famed match. Tennis and movie fans should rejoice in the films ability to capture the excitement of the game.
[Stone] is definitely a worthy successor to the real life Billie Jean King
Stone as Billie Jean King is almost unrecognisable, both physically and stylistically, for the actress known for romantic hits such as La La Land and rom-com Easy A. While wonderfully energetic and quirky in those, this film presents a different, quieter version of the actress. She brings steely determination to King’s characterisation, and it’s hard not to get swept up in it all just watching her. Stone also brings a quiet softness to her depiction of a blossoming romance, bringing a certain something to the relationship that breathes life and believability into it. A far cry from being Dirty-Dancing-lifted by a topless Ryan Gosling, there is something not so obvious about this depiction that truly sees Stone shine. She is definitely a worthy successor to the real life Billie Jean King, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone else who could capture the film quite as perfectly as Stone.
Steve Carell is also brilliant, bringing dimension to a character I thought would be relegated to a flat misogynistic baddy. Instead, it was difficult not to feel and perhaps even slightly root for the downtrodden, but never dull, Carell. It was impressive, and important, that the film presented the full-bodied person behind the ‘male chauvinist pig’ persona he purposefully created, never pitting the two against each other on a personal level but rather their own determined goals. Carell was the perfect choice, bringing all the humour of The Office with very little of the pity. The film thrives on creating a strong depiction of both King and Bobby Riggs, and without it wouldn’t be half the film it is.
The film also makes strides in its depiction of a lesbian relationship, which does not fall into the usual traps
The supporting cast is equally strong, made up of actors such as Sarah Silverman, Elisabeth Shue, Andrea Riseborough, Alan Cumming, and Natalie Morales. They bring life to the characters outside the dynamic duo and colour the rest of the film. Elisabeth Shue’s depiction of Priscilla Wheelan – Rigg’s wife – was especially important in the building up of Carell’s character past the misogynistic front. While Carell’s character is built up beyond this, the film still tackles sexist attitudes at the time head on, showing how deeply unfair tennis attitudes were. It unfortunately doesn’t seem like a far cry away from the modern gender pay gap in tennis, which is still being defended by the likes of Novak Djokovic.
The film also makes strides in its depiction of a lesbian relationship, which does not fall into the usual traps that a filmic depiction holds for onscreen LGBT couples. The relationship is not a simple throwaway attraction, nor used as a visual incentive. Instead the relationship is a truthful one, with an undeniably familiar depiction of falling for someone which is strained by the illiberal context of the time. It is not estranged as an oddity, but something unstoppable. The romance is beautifully created, but is equally not of central importance to the core plot – sending the much-needed message that LGBT people are not purely defined by their relationships, and this allows King’s achievements to remain at the forefront of the film. All in all, Battle of the Sexes gives you everything you could need from a film. A feel good success story, with some hiccups along the way. A story of women’s liberation. A story of LGBT liberation. A cracking tennis movie. So, if you enjoy liberal movements, a pick-me-up, or sports then I’d recommend you give it a try.
‘Battle of the Sexes’ is screening at London Film Festival 2017, taking place from 4th to 15th October. Information and tickets here.
Image: Twentieth Century Fox