A man and a woman take the stage here in 1972; the first, Billie Jean King, wins a tennis championship after a blurry match opens the titles; the second, Bobby Riggs, abandons his own family to gamble, often through his own tennis rounds. Right away, the men state how women are less publicly prevalent in tennis as men, meaning they get paid less as well. Sound familiar?
Battle of the Sexes follows much truer to history than you may think —allowing the real Billie Jean to oversee the production process proves the clear effort made to create a strong 21st century female role model. In the end, a fair point comes across: we need to reconsider our gamble in life.
The screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) still has potential for another future masterpiece based on his new display of well-crafted dialogue, as his style here enables each individual to realistically talk around their lies in a clever fashion. You can sense the depth behind these conflicted words, as only whatever matters to everyone's true values gets talked about.
The cast too expresses a strong desire to communicate the message about women empowerment, as most of them put in the best they could give. Oscar winner Emma Stone (Birdman, La La Land) portrays Billie Jean King with confidence to match her preparation for the role. Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Foxcatcher) portrays Billie Jean's ultimate rival with a considerable hardness that proves the comedian's effectiveness at drama. But I most enjoyed one of the smaller roles, Natalie Morales, who plays Billie Jean's stuck-up authoritative agent. Unfortunately, some of the male actors destroyed the perfect performance streak, particularly Austin Stowell, who plays Billie Jean's husband, and Alan Cumming, who plays a stereotypical British assistant thrown in mostly for comic relief. So sadly, not everyone in the cast and crew was truly passionate about its message of gender superiority.
In fact, almost nobody of redeemable quality supports the message's potential positive value. In essence, we don't even meet Billie Jean's husband until the midway point, which ends up feeling extremely joyless since beforehand, we see her sexual attraction toward her lesbian hairdresser come out in a moment of embracing and unzipping in a dark, steamy motel room. At this rate, why would I want to see an unfaithful wife succeed in her desire for fame and fortune?
As for Bobby, he appears to be nothing besides a depiction of the era's public mindset—an unmotivated woman hater. The balance in telling his story all throughout the feature is barely even there, as editor Pamela Martin (The Fighter, Little Miss Sunshine) leaves too long stretches of time away from Bobby's subplot. Even his climactic tennis match against the famed female star lacks any tension on his behalf, since no details are learned about what tennis means to either combatant.
The directorial appearance in particular lacks any artistic quality, from Emma Stone's fake black wig to needing to play "Where's Waldo" on the screen. What do I mean by that? Well, the two directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) unintentionally make you search harder than necessary to find the character talking. Their lack of screen control plays its greatest toll in the end, when the legendary match is viewed from far away into the audience bleachers, consequently ruining the intimacy of tennis. The cinematographer, Linus Sandgren, just won the Oscar last year for his colorful live action daydream, La La Land, but now his Steadicam work takes a massive step back into dull indie movie mode.
In the long run, the extreme preachiness may turn you off the most, since it forcefully tells you to accept its worldview on gender superiority. Similar to various feminist propaganda such as Thelma & Louise, Erin Brockovich, Frozen, Wonder Woman, and countless others, men are painted to look like the predators responsible for women's problems, which in this circumstance devalues heterosexual relationships and diminishes love to impulsive selfishness. Why do so many message films have to force such one-sided, surfacey conclusions? These events may have actually happened, yet the depiction of her affair straight up degrades straight married people. Bobby's marriage appears problematic until his wife decides to change in a submissive fashion, while Billie Jean's sole roadblock in her newfound love is her current husband? Give me a break.
Although my parents and I felt disappointed after walking out of the theater together, it led us into a rather in-depth discussion about our current treatment towards the LGBTQ community. Therefore, we as viewers ought to talk about these crucial ideas more, as listening to one another will help us realize the true blinded difference between the sexes.