I had been looking forward to Battle of the Sexes ever since I saw the first trailer. A biopic centered around one the most viewed tennis matches in history doesn’t sound incredibly exciting at first, especially if you’re not a huge sports fan. However, when the match was between the current female champion Billie Jean King and former male tennis star Bobby Riggs, a lot of layers are added to the story. Not to mention the fact that recent Oscar winner, Emma Stone, and experienced comedic and dramatic actor Steve Carell were taking up the lead roles. By all accounts this film should have been nearly perfect, and while I definitely enjoyed myself, the pacing was off, the finale didn’t have the impact it needed, and ultimately it wasn’t the film that the trailers promised.
If you don’t know much about the actual events around Battle of the Sexes like I did going in, I’ll give you some quick context. In 1973 Billie Jean King is the female tennis champion, but is still getting paid significantly less than here male counterparts. Upon questioning the heads of the Tennis League about this injustice, King is just given some BS reasoning for the huge pay gap that they expect her to accept. After realizing that she wasn’t going to be paid equally, King and several of the other female tennis players start their own tennis tournament and being touring across America. Half way through the tournament a 55 year old washed up tennis star named Bobby Riggs, who was considered to be one of the best players of all time, challenges King to what he dubs a “Battle of the Sexes”. While she flat out refuses at first, after Riggs beats a fellow young female tennis star, Margaret Court, King accepts Riggs challenge, which sets them both on the road to one of the most publicized tennis matches of all time.
The whole cast does a great job here but none of the supporting cast is particularly memorable, and while Stone gives another great performance as the troubled tennis star with the weight of the world on her shoulders, Carell is the one who steals the show. Bobby Riggs was looking to put on a show when he challenged Billy Jean to a match, he pitched the battle as ¨Male chauvinist pig vs. hairy legged feminist” and Riggs certainly went all out when playing his part. At a first glance Riggs seems like a complete sexist pig and that’s exactly what he was going for. Riggs was a hustler and knew that he needed to become a super villain in order to draw more attention to the match, which clearly worked. Carell perfectly captures the over the top, attention hogging Riggs and I wish there was more of him in the movie. Most of Carell´s best scenes were in the trailers and I didn’t expect the film to focus so much on the life of Billy Jean King.
This is where my major problem with the film comes in, it isn’t really about the Battle of the Sexes, it’s more about the life Billie Jean King before the Battle of the Sexes. For those who don’t know, King was involved in a lesbian relationship with her hair stylist while on tour, even though she had a husband. A large amount of the film is focused on this relationship and the conflicts that understandable come with it, not just because King is married but because of the time period. While focusing on this aspect of King´s life is not a bad thing in and of itself, the fact that no promotional material referenced this, coupled with the fact that this storyline moves incredibly slow, it left me a little frustrated. The Battle of the Sexes itself is not introduced until the third act and by that point there really isn’t enough time to build it up enough for a satisfying conclusion. When the big match was finally over my initial reaction was ¨That was it?¨ I was expecting to be on the edge of my seat, but it seemed like the actual Battle of the Sexes match was more of an afterthought. The whole film felt more like a Billie Jean King biopic than a Battle of the Sexes biopic, which is fine, but that is not what one would expect after seeing the trailer.
Now with all that being said, is King’s storyline entertaining; well, yes and no. At first I found myself enthralled while watching this confusing, terrifying and stressful period in King’s life unfold. However the film starts to drag around half way though and this mainly due to just not having enough real life material to work off of. Before the Battle of the Sexes is introduced, the film movies fairly slow in general with brief moments of excitement here and there In all. However, once the famous match is introduced the film moves too fast, not giving the audience enough time to build up anticipation to the final match. In fairness, Bobby Riggs did have a decent amount of time spent on him as well. You learn about his family life and plenty about his massive gambling problem, but I was still left with a decent amount of question about him that the film really should have answered. In the end the whole film felt unbalanced. If King and Riggs got a more equal amount of screen time that could have kept it from feeling slow.
Overall, I did end up enjoying Battle of the Sexes. Emma Stone gives a great dramatic performance and Steve Carell delivers a fantastic comedic performance that has it’s fair share of serious moments. However, I walked in thinking it could clean up at Oscars and felt thinking it would be lucky to nab two best actor nods. The premise was great, but the pacing and lack of balance between the films many storylines kept it from being something truly special.