‘How about this: Man vs. Woman. Male Chauvinist Pig vs Hairy-Legged Feminist…’
I’m not a fan of tennis. As a young boy, the worst two weeks of the year were when stupid Wimbledon meant that The Simpsons wasn’t on TV after school. I’m still bitter about it now. That being said, the prospect of women taking on men in sports where they are normally kept separate has always intrigued me, and it was this, coupled with a dazzling cast, that enticed me in to watching Battle of the Sexes.
Against the backdrop of the women’s rights movement, ageing tennis pro Bobby Riggs challenges rising star of the women’s game Billie Jean King to an exhibition match that would become a symbol for a lot more than just tennis.
Emma Stone is a tremendous actress and she shines again here but it is the more hit-and-miss Steve Carell who steals the limelight. It is no mean feat to portray a character who declares himself a chauvinist pig in a sympathetic light, but Carell manages this with a starry and charismatic turn. The supporting cast weigh in too with Sarah Silverman sassing it up all over the place as Billie Jean King’s financial backer and former tennis pro Gladys Heldman, Andrea Riseborough continues her pleasingly eclectic career as Jean King’s lover Marilyn Barnett and even Bill Pullman pops up as an old tennis dinosaur waiting to be extinct. Or Bill Paxton pops up. It’s definitely one of them.
The topic of sexism has become such an exhausting trudge down a highway of toxic name calling that is refreshing to see the subject handled with such a light touch here. Joint directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris mostly avoid making any kind of political statement instead just allowing the bravery of Billie Jean King and the absurdity of Bobby Riggs to speak for itself. The result is a film that could and should be enjoyed by everyone.
A love letter to Billie Jean King but also to Bobby Riggs and to a simpler time.
Anyone for tennis?