Movie Review: ‘BATTLE OF THE SEXES’ (2017)
‘Battle Of The Sexes’ was touted as one of those real life true stories about a bitter sports rivalry between two great athletes. The story was also supposed to reflect the political environment it was set in and seemingly, speak to the parallels of gender inequality that is very current today. However, the film ends up becoming something completely different, at the expense of a coherent story.
‘Battle Of The Sexes’ is a misfire as both a sports film, and an adaptation of a real life event.
Rating: ★★ (out 5)
The sports event covered in ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ saw the tennis exhibition match between Tennis legend Billie Jean King and hall of famer Bobby Riggs.
As part of his comeback and to feed into his own hubris, former Tennis professional Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) challenges women’s Tennis star Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) into a match meant to showcase the superiority of men over women. Being a feminist, King accepted, and the match was seen as a be all and end all to the debate of man vs. woman, and who is more superior.
The film itself is anything but the epic sports movie that ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ was promoted as. And as objectively as I would want to watch this movie, what little I knew about it, I found it difficult to shake off my expectations, even without which, the film doesn’t work. Even barring the marketing, the title itself promises some sort of versus match. And in a sports movie, that’s basically the premise of the story. Or should have been in this case. Unfortunately, there is almost little to no sports here.
‘Battle Of The Sexes’ plays more as a Billie Jean King bio-pic. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A well rounded story showing the origins in a life-and-times-of movie, showcasing the beginning and development of the woman that King becomes, would make for an amazing story. But the nuances of her life, the personal drama that no doubt shaped her career, had very little to do with this match with Riggs. Sadly though, the chunk of the movie was spent on just that, and poorly.
The entire first half of ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ is all about King and her scandalous personal relationships. We are introduced to the character as she wins a Tennis championship, and then boycotts the Tennis Association she is a part of, due to women players not being given more prize money than the men. A clear case of sexism. King, along with manager Gladys (Sarah Silverman) and a few other female tennis players, creates her own league as a middle finger to the larger, male dominated association.
We are only treated to 2 scenes of this character development of King. The real life person is very much known for her feminist stances and her fight and struggle for equal women’s rights. However, ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ reduces this to only 2 scenes. The rest of the movie focuses on her personal love affairs. Despite being married, King eventually came out as lesbian, and the film chronicles her first relationship with a woman. And as interesting as this depiction of King in her more private moments would have been, it adds nothing to the larger story of the match between her and Riggs.
Unlike other bio-pics that relate a characters personal struggles to the larger story and actions that they become famous for, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris make no attempt to connect those two aspects of King’s life. The personal drama between her lover (Andrea Riseborough) and her own husband Larry King (Austin Stowell) takes center stage for most of the film, without directly impacting the other events on screen.
Riggs is humanized in the film as well, but again, it doesn’t lend much explanation of his motivations towards the larger story. Riggs is depicted as a chronic and unapologetic gambler who has yet to lose, much to the chagrin of his wife. (Elizabeth Sue) The story explores how his marriage falls apart, but fails to adequately explain why Riggs does the things he does. He seems to have had an adult son who enables Riggs’ facade of exploiting male chauvinism to further create a public rift between himself and King, but then later seems disappointed by his father’s actions. Riggs also never seems to actually believe in his own sexists stances, but behaves in such a way in order to further increase ratings and milk more money out of the proceedings.
The rare moments of Stone and Carrell together sees them with zero chemistry, and are the weaker parts of the film. Individually however, Stone delivers a great performance that should be deserving of a better film. Carrell plays his role of a despicable and obnoxious loud mouth to perfection.
‘Battle Of The Sexes’ may be an accurate portrayal of the events that led up to the infamous match up between King and Riggs. However, the film fails to provide any in depth drama or relevant tension leading up to those events.
‘Battle Of The Sexes’ marketing focused on the struggle of King and her journey to women’s rights causing her to collide with Riggs. Which seemed like an inherently better movie than what we ended up with.