Advance Screening: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes Review

Runtime: 121mins | Director: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris | Rating: 3.5 Stars

When I started this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t discuss politics. With all the insanity that is currently occurring in the world, I wanted this to be a space where people could forget the craziness for five minutes, read a film review, and escape for a bit. Saying that, however, I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening of Battle of the Sexes in October, which given its topic, has made that a hard rule to stick to… (I promise I’ll go back to being politically neutral next week)

Given we are now in the year 2017 and the infamous Battle of the Sexes tennis match occurred in the 1970’s, it’s disappointing that women are still having to campaign and fight for the same rights which most rational people would agree should be a given – namely, equal pay for the same job held by a male counterpart. Unfortunately, with people such as Donald Trump in the world who seem to think it’s acceptable to brag about grabbing women by the pussy, it’s understandable how something such as equal pay can fall by the wayside. Battle of the Sexes (as you could probably guess) discusses these issues and roots them in the incredible story of Billie Jean King – an inspiration both in tennis and for women in general.

For those who don’t know what the film is about, it documents one of the most viewed sporting events in the history of television – the iconic tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), former women’s number one, and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), former men’s number one. Whilst preparing for the match, however, both King and Riggs find themselves having to cope with personal issues before the match; King begins to explore her sexuality with Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), her hairdresser, behind her husband’s back and before it’s ‘acceptable’ to be homosexual. Meanwhile, Riggs faces a very different problem – namely, his addiction to gambling which threatens to lose him his family. As both prepare for their showdown, the cracks begin to show and it becomes not just a test of strength, but also one of will.

I’ll start off with the good – Battle of the Sexes is a lot of fun to watch. Given the intensity of the topic, it would have been easy to make it all doom and gloom – instead, there are a lot of laughs to be had. Most of these laughs are derived from the chauvinistic caricature Riggs portrays to boost interest in the match (and thus, it’s revenue). One particularly amusing moment is just before they begin the match when Riggs hands King a comedically large lolly labelled ‘Sugar Daddy’ which she responds to by gifting him a pig, symbolising him and his chauvinistic ways.

Not only is the film very funny, but it’s also got an incredible soundtrack and pays strong homage to the era it’s set in – when watching it you’ll be treated to songs from 70’s icons such as Elton John, Aerosmith and George Harrison.

Unfortunately though, Battle of the Sexes fell short of the net (if you’ll excuse the pun…) for me on many occasions, and these shortcomings, for me, predominantly revolved around the values of the film. My first issue was that despite finding Riggs amusing (which is largely down to the genius of Carell), I wasn’t convinced that he had a right to be. Given that the film clearly stages King as its heroine and is seemingly championing women’s rights, it seemed somewhat backward to make the character who’s seeking to undermine these values a forgivable/lovable clown. Instead, they should have been harder hitting to do Billie Jean King’s story real justice, and more importantly, to cement the message that women’s rights weren’t a joke then, and shouldn’t be now either.

Furthermore, whilst the film openly championed women’s rights (even if it could have done so better, in my opinion) it didn’t deal with LGBTQ rights nearly enough. For many people, King isn’t just an inspiration in regard to women’s rights, but also to gay rights too. Throughout the film, however, her relationship with Marilyn seems to be used only as a distraction to her success in tennis, rather than something with its own meaning and importance. Saying that though, during the time the film is set In, King wasn’t openly gay so perhaps that’s why the topic isn’t delved into in depth - either way though, I felt the film could have done more in this area.

Regardless of its shortcomings, however, Battle of the Sexes is a hugely enjoyable film which both Emma Stone and Steve Carell give sensational performances in. Given that their last time on screen together was in Crazy, Stupid Love where they play both father and daughter, this was a very different dynamic for them - despite this, it worked perfectly. Most importantly though, the film deals with an important topic which is still very much relevant today, unfortunately. Hopefully though, with the help of the film industry continuing to create films which openly discuss important issues such as this (rather than ignoring them), these moral shortcomings will soon start to be rectified. 

Battle of the Sexes is released on the 24th of November and is available for pre-booking now. Go and see it!

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