- Gareth Crook
Battle of the Sexes (2017)
The story of Billie Jean King going head to head on the tennis court with Bobby Riggs. King (Emma Stone) is world famous, breaking ground and records. Riggs (Steve Carell) I’ve never heard of. Granted I’m not a big tennis fan, turns out he was world champion or something, but it’s clear right from the outset who we’re rooting for. It’s a bit of a period piece, based in the early 70s, the hair is big, the flares wide. They all pull it off rather well. I say all, as it’s not just the Stone/Carell Show. Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, Alan Cumming all feature in the supporting. The heart of this is King’s fight for equality. The male tennis players get paid more, pandered to more, they’re respected. The women in the sport, aren’t... and King is out to change that. It’s a pretty punchy topic, but the edges are filed off here. Sure it’s a biopic, but it’s doing it’s best to be fun and accessible. Carell is larger than life as Riggs, I’ve not a clue if that’s accurate, but it doesn’t matter... to be honest, he’s not that important. He’s just the heel. This is King’s story. Putting an all women tour together, with proper prize money, being the figurehead, but also delving into her personal life too, her relationship with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) and how that complicated things with her husband, Larry, who seems like a lovely bloke, although he does look like a Ken doll. So we’ve got a few subplots, including Kings rivalry with Margaret Court. The story though quickly comes around to Rigg’s proposition to play King. An exhibition match, the retired male champ (he’s 55) verses the current women’s best. He’s a serial gambler desperate for excitement and another glimpse of the limelight. I didn’t realise there was a precursor to the match, between Riggs and Margaret Court. Riggs wins with ludicrous amounts of male chauvinistic pomp and hot air. If King wasn’t fired up before, she is now! Riggs is playing for laughs with his comedic sexist zingers. It makes him pretty detestable. Come the big match, I’m not looking for a string of aces from King, I’m looking for her to bludgeon Riggs to death with a racket in front of 30,000 people. The match is all pretty preposterous. Over the top. Zero class. A full on spectacle. American. I’m a bit surprised it happened like this, but there you go. The gravity of the situation quickly dawning on Riggs as the balls fly and it’s fun to watch. The whole film is really, but it’s one of those where you think, I’m just interested in the facts really, a documentary on the event might’ve been better viewing. It’s fine though, the main players are all very watchable and all things considered, there’s not too much fluff... and I like Carell, if not Riggs.