It’s always a tricky thing to tell a story, particularly when everyone knows the ending, in a way worth watching. There’s not “reveal” to lure the audience into waiting for, no “twist” in the plot that’ll shock and captivate. But giving people a meaning look at a slice of someone’s life? Not nearly as easy to make people care enough to buy a ticket.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris successfully sculpt the life-changing moments building up to this tennis match into a story about recognizable figures worth seeing. Battle of the Sexes starring Emma Stone as Billy Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs has a warm and provocative narrative that resonates for far more reasons than King’s victory over Riggs.
44 years ago, Billy Jean King picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Bobby Riggs to play him in a tennis match coined by Riggs as the “Battle of the Sexes.” The match, and her win, televised in prime time on ABC, changed the landscape of women’s tennis and cemented King’s place as a trailblazer of the women’s lib movement. Most people know this going into the film.
So it’s a smart to have Battle of the Sexes drop into Billy Jean King’s life as she’s riding the wave of being ranked number one female tennis player. She’s the darling of the tennis world and she’s making waves. This movie pulls the camera back from King’s personal battle with the tennis powers-that-be and juxtaposes it against her desire to be free to live an authentic life.
Unlike many biopics about athletes, the direction keeps this story moving while using newsreel (the footage may be reshot to feature the actors, but the dialogue is authentic) to orient the audience in time and place. Coupled with grounded, three-dimensional and vital performances by the entire female cast, and Carrell’s uncanny channeling of the bombastic Bobby Riggs, 1973 comes to life in a way that will feel both accurately historical and eerily present tense.
The script weaves in and out of seminal moments in the tennis world, the climate of the time, the controversy surrounding the changing role of women in the public sphere with inviting the audience all while diving into the personal lives and motivation of the main characters both in and out of the spotlight. This film does more than build up to a tennis match it showcases the sacrifices and back-room dealings that can make or break not only a career but someone’s life. Watching someone struggle to live their dream and fulfill their purpose all while trying to come to terms with how to honor their own personal truths was both engaging and powerfully evocative.
Watching someone struggle to live their dream and fulfill their purpose all while trying to come to terms with how to honor their own personal truths was both engaging and powerfully evocative. You’ll walk away with a greater sense of who these women were that refused to accept the status quo, who the men were adamant and dug in to hold the line and the havoc being forced to play to the cheap seats can have on trying to build a life beyond the game.
Battle of the Sexes is a peek behind the curtain and into lives lived in the glaring public eye. It tells its story by showcasing aspects of a time period and of mindsets that cannot and should not be forgotten. The gauntlet King picked up wasn’t laid down after she beat Riggs, it continues to be passed on and people should know why she fought and what she fought for because it sure wasn’t just a need to be number one.
This film made me remember why these types of movies are important to make and do well and it must be said, it has some of the best hair flirting you’ll ever see in soft 70s lighting this side of the green door…
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