Battle of the Sexes, the film about the much-hyped 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, isn’t a full-fledged “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!” triumph, but it is a fantastic visual time capsule of the 70’s; perhaps slightly exaggerated, but never goes camp. There’s a warm, hazy, nostalgic wash over the plot. The characters are developed with humor and honesty. We cheer for Emma Stone as Billie Jean King, for being (mostly) single-minded, but not one-dimensional. Shout-out to Sarah Silverman, Elisabeth Shue, and John C. McGinley, all of whom made me think, “Oh I love you! Where have you been!”
Steve Carrell is the perfect Bobby Riggs, who we should want to punch in the face, but he brings a tenacious but childlike charm to Riggs that we see reflected in his wife’s interactions with him. Which brings me to the most unique quality of Battle of the Sexes. The way King and Rigg’s spouses respond to each marital crisis is so unexpectedly compassionate, it’s almost disconcerting. They don’t follow the cliche “go nuclear” script, but they don’t seem like doormats. They seem to reflect a quiet strength and incredible will.
There’s still a pay discrepancy in pro tennis although it has improved from the sometimes 8-to-1 wage gap 40 years ago. When King initially accepted the challenge from Riggs, it was to bring awareness to the equal-pay cause and pressure tournament organizers to begin paying both genders equally. And although some of the sexist things the men say in Battle of the Sexes would never fly today, is that due to a culture of suppressing political correctness, or a genuine change in equality mentality? I’m not so sure.
Really, really short review: Battle of the Sexes is fun because it’s about a unique forgotten aspect of Americana. It leaves you wanting to know more and makes the world feel a little more exciting and a little quirkier.