The true story behind Battle of the Sexes wasn’t one I was familiar with prior to the release of this film. If you asked me a year ago who Billy Jean King was, I could only give you my best guess. But Billy Jean King changed the face of tennis. It was 1973, and Billy Jean (portrayed here by Emma Stone) was the number one tennis player in the world, prepping for a self-run tour that allowed women an equal share of the winnings in comparison to the men’s league, who, at the time, were getting paid eight times more (a problem still present today). Times needed to change. Billy Jean was doing the best she could to make that happen.
At their core, sports movies are all the same. They’re structurally identical, with only a few exceptions here and there, such as Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby, a personal favourite of mine. It’s why practically every Rocky movie follows a replicated story arc. The plot for Battle of the Sexes isn’t an intricate, unpredictable ride with twists and turns, but it doesn’t try and hide that. Even the concluding tennis match, as suspenseful and thrilling as it may be, feels open about where it’s going to end up. Don’t go into this movie expecting to be surprised. But it’s not about that. It’s about the thematic issues that deal with gender, love and equality for all.
Emma Stone and Steve Carell, previously appearing together in the fantastic and even more delightful Crazy Stupid Love, bring their award winning talents to the sports biopic in the best way possible. Stone is still rolling off of her Oscar winning success earlier in the year, delivering yet another fantastic and grounded performance. Her filmography continues to expand in all the right ways, and the make up and costuming have done a terrific job at replicating the real-life look of Stone’s character. It gives an immersive retro feel to the whole thing, backed up by the camera work and visually indistinguishable from that of the real time period.
There’s a good fifteen minutes of sub-plot that could easily be shaved off of the running time for Battle of the Sexes, but for what we’ve got, the final product remains an entertaining sports biopic with equal heart, humour and importance. It’s no Little Miss Sunshine, but it doesn’t try to be. This is a film in an entirely different realm, but one you definitely don’t want to miss.
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