Directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Starring Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, Alan Cumming.
The Plot: It’s the 1970s in America and equality between men and women is still something to be fought for, including in the sporting arena. Ace women’s tennis champion Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) objects to the fact that men are paid 8 times as much as women to compete. Tennis sporting body representative and commentator Jack (Bill Pullman) thinks it’s just biology and that women can’t handle the pressure. Along with friend Gladys (Sarah Silverman) and other female tennis stars, Billy Jean forms a female splinter group which causes ructions in tennis circles. This draws the attention of showman Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), the men’s champion who wants to put the show back in chauvinism. He challenges her to a battle of the sexes on the court. That is, if she can keep her nerve…
The Verdict: Occasionally, a film about another generation comes along which isn’t so much about the past but is really about the present. Given recent discussions on gender pay equality in the film industry, with Emma Stone asking her male co-stars to take the same salary as her, it could also be viewed as a wry commentary on the more things change, the more they stay the same. However, let’s not read too much into it, for that would spoil what is an entertaining sports film fronted by two charismatic characters.
Husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame make good use of Simon Beaufoy’s fine script, setting up these two opposing forces early on. Billy Jean is fleshed out well, making her not so much a firebrand but someone who is clearly unhappy about the sexist attitudes in the tennis world. As she simply points out to Bobby at one point, she’s a tennis player who happens to be a woman. Nothing more. Why should that be regarded as different? The film also explores her developing attraction to hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), sensitively depicted with a more modern touch.
Bobby, on the other hand, is rich but hobbled by a gambling addiction. Supremely confident in himself and his abilities, he outwardly plays the part of a chauvinist but has his own insecurities. Carell is spot-on casting here, making Bobby likeable despite his attitudes. There’s a nice onscreen rapport between Stone and Carell, less like enemies and more like professional rivals who might just be evenly matched on the court. The witty script moves deftly between comedy and drama, with the high stakes involving so much more than winning a trophy. Even if the outcome isn’t a huge surprise, it’s still a tense enough watch as the duo duke it out on the court.
So, it’s game, set, match for Battle Of The Sexes. It’s smart, funny, light, enlightening and even thought-provoking. In the battle of the tennis films this year, Battle Of The Sexes clearly beats Borg vs McEnroe.