There is so much talent bursting out of ‘Battle of the Sexes’ that it should come as no surprise to find it’s a damn near perfect example of how good a sports drama can be. In a perfect melding of directors to material, producers Danny Boyle and Christian Coulson (Slumdog Millionaire) put their money on the talented team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) for this project. The style that they brought to films like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Ruby Sparks’ translates perfectly to the 1970’s aesthetic of this film.
You also can’t understate the talent of Emma Stone as Billie Jean King. Stone won the Oscar last year for her performance in ‘La La Land’ and she’s good enough to be nominated again this year. The way she seeps into Billie Jean’s pours is absolutely infectious. She commits wholeheartedly to every aspect of this role and it comes across in emotionally cathartic moments that are part of what make this film so rewarding.
Steve Carrell is also really good as the sexist tennis champion Bobby Riggs. His role could have easily just been one note and the screenplay could have really torn him apart. It doesn’t. The script is much more interested in illuminating these people instead of condemning them or throwing a halo over their heads. Bobby is certainly a sexist asshole, be he’s also shown to be a pretty loving dad. Billie Jean is absolutely a great tennis player and feminist icon, but she also cheated on her husband. These imperfect characters are much easier to root for than cardboard cut outs you often get in these movies.
Like all great sports movies, this movie is not really about the sport of tennis. It’s about the women that played in it. It’s about the way Billie Jean fought against the tennis world because they were only willing to pay women an 8th of what the men were getting. It’s a love story about a homosexual relationship (with an outstanding Andrea Riseborough) and how it could have destroyed Billie Jean’s life because of hatred towards lesbians in that time. And it’s a story about an event that helped change the way the world sees women athletes.
So, if you were planning on seeing anything this weekend it should be ‘Battle of the Sexes’. You will laugh, cry, and walk out feeling a bit of pride for how far we’ve come. You might also think a little bit about the Trump presidency and how much further we have to go, but everything can always be sunshine.