“Battle of the Sexes” is a one-hit knockout

This film is one battle you’ll have to see to believe

It’s an age-old question, whether or not the man or the woman is the superior to the other. In “Battle of the Sexes” while there is a clear winner in some regards, the larger ideas are what hit home.

The film tells the true story of the 1973 tennis match of the same name, where World No. 1 tennis player Billie Jean King, played by Emma Stone, faces ex-champion/serial gambler Bobby Riggs, played by Steve Carell, in a fight to determine who is superior, or — more accurately — who at least deserves an equal seat at the table.

Its no surprise that a film titled “Battle of the Sexes” would feature several themes tailored to feminism and who better than to carry this burden that the brilliant Stone, who captures the essence of the character masterfully.

The film explores more than just Billie Jean King the tennis player who wanted equality for women, but as a woman who must come face to face with her sexuality. When we see Stone’s King fall for her hairstylist, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), we see a timid King anxious to explore, but hesitant in the face of risking the achievement of her goals. 

Stone handles the complex nature of that role wonderfully, through little nuanced expressions or a slight lingering of the eyes and the chemistry between the two women is believable right from their first meet-cute (a scene where a romantic couple first meets).

Suddenly the film develops a whole new tone and meaning after this, and becomes something much deeper than “he’s better” or “she’s better.” It becomes about the broad spectrum of equality and what that truly means.

It is hard not to sympathize with King in these moments. She is a woman already fighting an up-hill battle, and now she has been shackled with weights. On the inverse of this though, is her competition.

Bobby Riggs exudes almost everything vile about a misogynistic gambler you could think of. He constantly puts down his competition using derogatory remarks such as, “I like them in the bedroom and in the kitchen.” 

Beyond this though his character is a bit goofy, always jubilantly prancing around the screen trying to figure out his next joke or con. In fact, his character and Carell’s portrayal of him may be the weakest link in this chain. There’s just so many theatrics one can handle from a character.

This also could be due to the writing. While most of the film is clever, thought provoking and endearing, there are moments throughout that feel too shallow compared to the rest.

What could have improved is some more character development on the part of King’s husband, Larry (Austin Stowell), or heavier dialogue for Riggs. Most of the heavy hitting dialogue falls on Stone as she carries a majority of the film’s emotional weight, which only makes the lack of heavy dialogue around her more noticeable. 

It wouldn’t be a reach to say that it feels as though the true “villain” of the story is Bill Pullman’s, Jack Kramer, a tennis announcer who is a step above Riggs on the misogynist scale 

If the audience finds themselves more glued to the moments where Kramer and King go head to head via their several debates, they shouldn’t be surprised. A hero is only as great as their villain and Pulllman just delivers.


The thing though that makes “Battle of the Sexes” a triumph is that even though there is a clear victor in the tennis match, the whole thing feels like one stepping stone in a much larger conversation. The film feels more like a long debate between two opposing sides. 

The film is also an excellent expose of a woman coming into her sexuality and taking the first step toward championing a new cause. There is a wonderful moment towards the film’s conclusion where her gay wardrobe artist comforts King saying, “One day.”

What makes “Battle of the Sexes” great is that it doesn’t try to be just one thing, but it encompasses a multitude of ideas smoothly, creating a bond to its audience that will have everyone at the edge of their seat anxious to cheer Billie Jean King on. 

Overall score: 4/5

The movie opens on Friday, Sept. 22 exclusively at Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square.

Reach the reporter at balnero13@gmail.com or follow @BaldnerOwen on Twitter.

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