The battle for equality between men and women has been long fought throughout the years, especially in the male-dominated world of sport. Battle of the Sexes brings to light 1970’s star female tennis player Billie Jean King’s battles on and off the court, leading up to her historic match with ex-men’s tennis champ and self-proclaimed male chauvinist, Bobby Riggs, and by gosh – it’s one hell of a battle!
The world’s no.1 female tennis player, Billie Jean King, soon after taking out the women’s title in the US Open, discovers that, despite drawing the exact same sized crowd as the men’s grand final, the women’s prize money would be eight times less than that of the men’s. Angered by this inequity and with no success in challenging the male-dominated tennis establishment, she sets her sights on creating her own women’s tennis circuit, igniting a sports-based arena within the 1970’s women’s liberation movement.
Alongside Billie Jean’s battle on court for equality is her battle off the court as she struggles with her sexual identity, especially when confronted by her overwhelming feelings for the beautiful, young hairdresser Marilyn Barnett, while also being married to her then-husband, Larry King. As the 1970s was still not an environment safe for those who would now currently identify under the LGBTQ+ rainbow, Billie Jean struggled with her own feelings and the implications of destroying her career if her true identity was revealed to the public.
Emma Stone is a perfect acting and political choice for the role of Billie Jean King as Stone has spoken out about women’s rights and equality, especially within the film industry when it comes to equal pay. She has fought her modern battles within her industry just as Billie Jean did within the sporting world. Stone captures the nuances of the complex character of Billie jean, both as a strong, outspoken early feminist and a vulnerable, victim of the conservative times.
Steve Carell is so good at playing bad that he easily makes hating his character, Bobby Riggs, almost lovable in a way that only he can. Carell totally embodies the famed sports jokester and hustler when dressing up in multitudes of costumes for meets with the press and happily posing for nude photos with only a tennis racket to hide his modesty. Alongside the humour though, Carell also captures Riggs’s private struggle with gambling and the destruction it causes within his family, fermenting a sense of empathy for a man you would otherwise utterly despise.
An honourable mention must definitely be made to Sarah Silverman as Billie Jean’s formidably feisty manager, Gladys Heldman, who provides many moments of hilarity throughout the film with her voluminous personality, matching her 70’s style big hair and big sunglasses.
The attention to detail in Battle of the Sexes is incredibly accurate. The combination of classic 70’s cars, brightly coloured motels, plenty of short-shorts and Farah Fawcett-flicked waves (and that’s just the men), alongside classic 70’s songs, transports the audience to the funky world of 1973 where the women’s lib movement was cranking up its momentum.
Battle of the Sexes brings to light, with humour and an eye to entertain, the discrimination that women were subjected to, especially within the sporting world and the impossibility of those who identify within the LGBTQ+ community to be their true selves. This is a film for all to see, just how difficult a gay woman’s life could be only 50 years ago.