Imagine leaving the stability and security of steady employment to take a giant risk on a new job venture which speaks to your true ideals; its success and financial compensation, however, is completely up in the air. Imagine experiencing new feelings and emotions which seem confusing and unnatural, but also awaken a new part of yourself. Most importantly, imagine a situation where the future of a large group of people hinges upon your success or failure—to a certain degree.
All of these scenarios are wrapped into one in “Battle of the Sexes.” Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, the film depicts events leading up to and culminating in the namesake and iconic $100,000 winner-take-all tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs Sept. 20, 1973.
King (Emma Stone), coming off a victory at the 1972 U.S. Open, is insulted to discover that the women’s champion’s payday is a meager $1,500, compared to the $12,000 awarded to the men’s champion. She decides to drop out of the association, boycott the following year’s Wimbledon and found the precursor to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), along with assistance from “World Tennis” magazine founder and fellow women’s advocate Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman).
While King and her fellow female tennis pros get the newly-sponsored Virginia Slims Circuit up and running, retired Riggs (Steve Carell) toils away at a mundane office job and spends time with his son and wife, Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). Unbeknownst to Priscilla, Riggs, a compulsive gambler to say the least, cannot turn down a bet. Keeping a distant eye on his female competitors and craving an opportunity to return to the spotlight, Riggs challenges number one-ranked player Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) to a match. Upon defeating Court, he issues an open challenge to any female player. Sensing female equality at stake, King accepts his challenge.
The relationship between King and her stylist-turned-lover Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) proves to be an important aspect of the film. Marilyn’s affection turns King’s emotional world completely onto its head. King’s homosexuality became a large part of her personal identity; thus, she dedicated a significant amount of time and influence to ensure same-sex couples and other underrepresented minorities were provided with equal rights.
Stone, fresh off her Oscar win for “La La Land,” inserts a great deal of respect into the role of real-life King. She embodies King’s quiet determination to fight for the rights of her fellow women. Her growth as an actress definitely permeates through the role. Carell is also sharp as the chronic hustler, Riggs. His portrayal of Riggs’ braggadocious and boisterous media and real-life persona serves as the ideal counterpart to Stone’s reserved King. It’s good to see the two of them back on screen in a different kind of contentious relationship, after their father and daughter roles in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”
The film is very straightforward and, as a result, not enough attention is paid to the wide-ranging impact of the match on the public. It would have been nice to see the film more engrossed in the public’s reaction to the significance of the match.
As the film’s credits roll, “If I Dare,” co-written and performed by Sara Bareilles, plays. The song perfectly encapsulates the sentiment of King. She dared to prove that not only female tennis players, but also all oppressed people, must act to ensure their voices are heard.