24 November 2017 (released)
24 November 2017
Steve Carell started his career as the all-American funnyman, but in recent years has made increasingly interesting and smart choices with his movies.
Battle of the Sexes is no different, and serves up another hit for both him and Oscar winner Emma Stone.
The film tells the true-life story of the 1973 showdown between former male tennis champ Bobby Riggs (Carell) and women's tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King (Stone).
It begins by detailing the view of women, both tennis players and everyday ladies, in the '70s, as lesser beings than mighty man. When Billie Jean and World Tennis magazine founder Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) get wind that the Pacific Southwest Championships are putting up a prize fund eight times higher for the male winner than the female, they decide things need to change pronto.
Cornering Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), a former number one player and the leading promoter of professional tennis tours, Billie Jean and Gladys demand female winners get the same prize money as the men. While Jack acknowledges ticket sales for both matches are the same, he disregards their threats to boycott his tour and ultimately lets them know that although impressive, female players are not a patch on the men and therefore don't deserve the same cash.
Gathering a group of nine talented women players for a new female-only tour, the ladies sign a one dollar contract and are promptly expelled by Jack.
Going from strength to strength, the women's tour, which comes with its own lucrative prize pot thanks to sponsorship from tobacco giant Philip Morris, the matches soon catch the eye of former tennis ace, and now hopeless gambler, Bobby. Sniffing out a money-making scheme that will see his name back in lights, self-styled chauvinist pig Bobby approaches Billie Jean about proving herself on the court against a man and settling the battle of the sexes debate once and for all by playing him. She's not interested in his headline-grabbing offer and tells him where to go, but when her game starts to suffer, Bobby has a new brainwave, and pitches the same offer to Billie's rival Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee).
After beating Billie Jean and determined to further lord it over her competition, Margaret agrees to Bobby's game, but crumbles under the pressure, making women's tennis the laughing stock of the sporting world. Believing she's the only one who can restore people's faith in women's tennis, Billie Jean finally relents and agrees to play Bobby. But at what personal cost?
As well as the tennis storyline, there is also a subplot which sees Billie Jean confronted with her sexuality as she embarks on a love affair with hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) while her devoted husband and biggest supporter Larry (Austin Stowell) is forced to look on.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and writer Simon Beaufoy deliver a beautiful, engaging and funny feature, which tells a story that's just as important today as it was 44 years ago. It feels apt for the current Hollywood climate, which once again has shone a light on how men see women as objects. The performances are brilliant, every single one of them, including Alan Cumming as fashion designer Cuthbert 'Ted' Tinling.
Awards nominations will no doubt come calling, and deservedly so. The 121 minute runtime drags slightly in the middle, but there's never really a dull moment in Battle of the Sexes, and although tennis great Billie Jean was able to make light of her historic match, a sign of the times in the chauvinistic '70s, the film portrays women as strong, competent and independent in a man's world with a massive dose of girl power. People like Billie Jean King still lead the way for women all over the world.