Movie review: Battle of the Sexes

Hayden Masia, Contributing Writer

Warning: Spoiler alert ahead!

Set in the early 1970s, Battle of the Sexes is an inspiring yet flawed piece of moviemaking. It follows the story of the events relating to the world-famous tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) that was held in the Houston Astrodome in 1973.

The stories of the two players contrast even from the start of the movie. King is climbing higher and higher in her already stellar career. Along with a group of other top female players, she starts a tournament called the Virginia Slims Tour in an attempt to dismantle the idea that female athletes should be paid less than male athletes. Around the same time, Riggs’ marriage begins to fall apart due to his unbreakable gambling addiction, and his fame from being a world champion vanishes.

Later, we meet Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) who is King’s hairdresser. King unexpectedly falls in love with Barnett, and the two eventually have an affair which is hidden from King’s husband. Eventually, we are shown the scene of the match itself, where King enters, Cleopatra-style, and Riggs comes in on a rickshaw pulled by scantily clad models. While the match itself is an important detail, it is not, in fact, the main focus of the story. Rather, the movie focuses more on King’s struggle for equality.

Emma Stone does a beautiful job of portraying Billie Jean King. Her mannerisms, speech, and even her movements are very well done, and Stone is extremely accurate in her display of such a courageous and powerful woman. However, it is disappointing to see little or nothing of King’s deep influence on the fight for LGBTQ rights, or how she was outed as lesbian by Barnett, her lover.

On a different note, Steve Carell truly aces his performance as Bobby Riggs, which showcases Carell’s range in acting, as Riggs was quite different from his portrayal of Michael Scott in The Office. I cannot think of anyone better suited to play the male chauvinist hustler.

Overall, this movie is empowering, especially for women. King’s fierce determination is inspiring and serves as a lesson despite the absurdity of the match itself. Much social improvement has occurred since this 1973 Battle of the Sexes match. Now, Serena Williams would hardly have to prove herself like this against a washed up former 30 year older male champion. When Williams goes out onto the court, almost no one questions her, and that can be partially attributed to Billie Jean King and her influence.

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