Random Review: Battle of the Sexes
Battle of the Sexes, starring Steve Carell and Emma Stone, is the dramatization of the events leading up to a historic tennis match between women's champion Billie Jean King, and men's champ Bobbie Riggs. King has just started her own women's tennis league in a bid for equality. Riggs wants to set up a match, ostensibly to prove the superiority of male players, but mostly just to make some needed cash. When King refuses, Riggs plays and easily beats another woman from her league. Now it is up to King to prove that women are just as good as men at tennis.
There is a romantic subplot involving a hairdresser that King becomes involved with, much to the dismay of her husband. And while the film starts to look like it may become a full on ensemble piece like GLOW, it remains focused more or less on the main players (no pun intended). I would be interested to find out how accurate this part of the movie is, as it smacked a little bit of Rocky's self-doubt causing him to fall behind in his training as presented in just about every Rocky movie.
Battle of the Sexes could have easily been a disaster. While I personally have an affinity for sports movies (which is in itself strange since I don't watch actual sports all that much) tennis seems like a boring sport to make a movie about. And in fact, the big climactic tennis match may be the one dull spot in the movie, especially since you don't have to know anything about the actual history to know how it is going to end. Also, with it's themes of women's rights and gay rights it could very easily have become so heavy handed in it's message that it became a movie that was only going to preach to the choir.
Instead, thanks to good writing and great performances by Steve Carell and Emma Stone (and really everyone involved), this ended up being a fun and entertaining movie that still brings home the point that women often still have to fight to get the recognition and reward that men get for doing the same thing. The movie also shows the lengths one had to go to in order to hide being gay if you were at all in the public eye at one time. In fact, the most sympathetic character in the whole movie might be Austin Stowell's Larry King, who knows he'll never have his wife's affection the way that Andrea Riseborough's Marilyn does, but still stands by her and tries to protect her.
In a movie about sexism, it would have been so easy to portray Bobby Riggs as a purely evil monster. And while the movie does not shrink away from his chauvinism, or his gambling addiction, it still portrays him as being likable. Some people will no doubt take issue with this, but the reality is that almost no one is 100 percent monster or 100 percent saint. Even Emma Stone's King seems to enjoy being in his presence to a certain degree, as they trade verbal jabs. When she presents him with a pig before their match, it is a pointed comment about his attitude, but does not seem to be an entirely spiteful one.
Even if Riggs is not as deplorable as some of the other men in the movie (Bill Pullman's Jack Kramer is pretty much the sexist monster you would expect in a movie about feminism, with no real redeeming traits), you still get to see him get his comeuppance in the end. I guess that's a spoiler, but like I told my partner as we watched it, "You have to know the ending, because if it had ended the other way they most likely would not be making a movie about it". The sad thing is that as far as equal pay for equal work, we haven't really made much progress in this country since that time. As far as gay rights, there has been progress but it's still much more tenuous than it ought to be. This movie does a great job of making you think about these things without beating you over the head with them, and entertaining you all at the same time.