Review: Emma Stone hits a near perfect shot in “Battle of the Sexes”
By Jeffrey Waitkevich
In 1973, the exhibition match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes” brought the women’s rights movement to the tennis court. Spearheading the movement was Billie Jean King.
Now, a 2017 film is attempting to recreate that magic.
Because of the importance of the event it depicts, “Battle of the Sexes” had the potential to be one of the greatest biographical sports films of all time. The year 2017 had no shortage of misogyny and controversy in the tennis world, so it is the perfect time to remind people just how important this match was.
The film features Emma Stone as King, the aforementioned women’s tennis star, and Steve Carell as the 55-year-old, self-proclaimed “chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs.
Stone shines in arguably the greatest role of her career. Carell, however, feels like an imperfect fit as the sexist clown.
King was the driving force behind the equal pay movement in tennis. She even started her own tennis league in protest, so there is no denying her fortitude. In “Battle of the Sexes,” Stone captures King’s tenacity when dealing with the true antagonist Jack Kramer (played by Bill Pullman); she embodies King’s charisma in every interview and portrays King’s grace through the adversity she faces as a lesbian tennis player with a husband in the ‘70’s.
Her performance was truly masterful.
As for her co-star Carell, the performance was impressive, but the fit wasn’t right. Through his career, Carell has always played the goofy, lovable character. He has played every role from an animated squirrel to a secret agent to a 40-year-old virgin, but he has never been known as the bad guy. Rooting against Carell is tough because of how likable he is in every other role, and the movie does him no favors by painting him as a clown in Kramer’s sexist circus. While he is the big name who will draw viewers, he was not the right casting choice.
As for the supporting cast, Pullman is a strong choice for Kramer, and Natalie Morales plays a phenomenal Rosie Casals, another tennis player from King’s Women’s Tennis Association circuit. Andrea Riseborough as Marilyn Barnett, King’s hairdresser-turned-lover, was less impactful than one would have wanted as King struggled with her sexuality. She lacked personality and was more of a plot object than an impactful character
An underrated character with a significant impact is Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee). She is the antithesis to King. Court is the tennis player who doesn’t speak out. Instead, she just shoots looks at King when she gets a little too close with Marilyn—a nod to Court’s history of homophobia.
The best part of this movie, however, is not Stone or the characters. It is how well it recreates the movement while pulling no punches in showing how much oppression women faced. It is surprising to watch how harsh the men were, which adds to the empowering feel of the movie as King and her group of revolutionists rise above.
It almost feels like “Wonder Woman” with tennis rackets.
Throughout the movie, “Battle of the Sexes” touches on a wide range of issues. The depth of the storyline is actually quite impressive. While most tennis fans will enjoy the movie because it features notable stars of the game, everyone will be able to find some aspect to relate to—even if it is merely listening to old men spew nonsense on television.
The visual aspects of the setting were strong as well. While older viewers could probably find some irregularities, those born after 1973 will appreciate the throwback airport TV chairs, the Sugar Daddy advertising that has clothed women, and the old-timey haberdashery that are no longer present in 2017.
There was also a plethora of scenes of Riggs playing a style of tennis that only seems possible in the most outrageous video games. He dresses up as Little Bo Peep and plays using sheep as his teammates in one scene and walks large dogs for a bet during another one.
This is where Carell really shines, while it also serves as a fun addition to an otherwise serious movie.
Unfortunately, misogyny is still present in tennis, so there will always be the potential for a “Battle of the Sexes 2.” 58-year-old tennis legend John McEnroe has routinely proclaimed that he could beat either of the Williams Sisters—Serena and Venus—though it seems unlikely that either of the legendary sports figures entertain McEnroe’s comments.
The Crow’s Nest rates movies between one and five stars, with five stars being the highest possible score.
Header photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures