Timely iniquity: 'Battle of the Sexes' is an engaging romp with a serious message

Steve Carell and Emma Stone in the film BATTLE OF THE SEXES. (Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)

Battle of the Sexes
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
Rated: PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity

The story of the events leading up to legendary 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

Review: The one thing that is truly shocking, or perhaps simply disappointing, is that “Battle of the Sexes” doesn’t feel like a quaint throwback to the 1970s; it feels like it could have taken place tomorrow, yesterday or even today.

Sure, the woman’s side of tennis has risen up and surpassed the men’s in popularity, but outside of tennis women are still fighting for equal pay, respect and “permission” to leave the kitchen. In regards to the LGBTQIA issues, society has made progress, but not nearly enough to start congratulating ourselves for a job well done.

In many ways “Battle of the Sexes” is serving the same sort of purpose that “Detroit” did earlier this year. The key difference being that “Detroit” was focus upon race and is without question a more difficult film to watch. It features brutal violence to go along with its intolerance.

“Battle of the Sexes” is a much easier film to watch in part because the film’s antagonist, Bobby Riggs, isn’t really the villain. Riggs was an opportunist who knew how to push people’s buttons. He saw a way to capitalize on social anxiety regarding the Women’s Rights Movement and went for it. This doesn’t make him a saint, but it does give him a certain forgiveness that I am unwilling to offer to the police officers in “Detroit.”

For all the serious issues in “Battle of the Sexes,” the film is as equally fun as it is critical of society. Steve Carell is wonderful as Bobby Riggs. He oozes charisma and, even when he is saying the most audacious things, you can’t help but like him. This is partly due to Emma Stone’s performance as Billie Jean King and the way the two characters interact. For King, Riggs seems nothing more than an annoyance. A man who is grasping at straws to keep his name in the papers. She doesn’t pity him or appreciate that he is using Women’s Rights as a footstool, but she doesn’t hate him. Even when Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), King’s devoted friend and founder of the Virginia Slim’s Tour, says she “hates” Riggs she is simply reacting to his unquenchable desire to stand in the spotlight.

Where Carell is the heart of the comedy, Emma Stone is the soul of the drama. Her performance as King is believable. Stone has said she isn’t much of an athlete, but at no point in the film do you doubt her ability to play tennis. King’s relationship with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) is a little clumsy, but that has everything to do with the writing and direction of that aspect of the story.

“Battle of the Sexes” is a very good film with a message that feels all too timely. Still, it’s more pleasant than it is preachy, which should make it an easier sell to those who need to listen to its message the most.

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