Battle of the Sexes

by Justin Johnson

Battle of the Sexes should have been a movie I loved.  Showcasing some of my favorite actors and actresses, one of my favorite sports, and a rather compelling story and historical piece within the sport I love.  Instead, everything I should have loved was downplayed and the movie focused on male chauvinism and homosexual freedom.  Even some of my most liberal friends found the movie missed the mark and gave it low ratings.  Emma Stone and Steve Carell deliver great performances but with the Hollywood contrived script, had little room to explore some of the more significant historical events.  Sarah Silverman fit her role perfectly as the smoking promoter of the new women’s league.  Even with the poor story, the acting was good.

That’s the main summary, I’ll dive into the details a bit, but the above gives you a good idea of what to expect if you want to avoid any spoilers or details.  Back in the 70’s tennis was a male dominated sport and women began to demand more equality.  The movie opens with this premise and when rejected, Billy Jean King forms her own women’s league.  As the women battle to show they deserve equal footing at the grand slams (equal pay to male counterparts) by drawing ever larger crowds, enter hustler Bobby Riggs.  Once a major grand slam champion, now a gambling addict and hustler challenges Billy to a tennis match.  The movie could have explored the dynamics of 70s tennis and the inequality of male vs. female athletes, the outlandish match between Billy and Bobby (and its significance in the history of tennis), and all the amazing work Billy Jean King did on behalf of female athletes.  Instead, the movie dives deep into Billy Jean King’s battle with homosexuality (I say battle because in her own words, it was a very challenging time to come out gay especially with her parents and profession).  Explicit scenes are shown and the middle of the movie is much more an exploration of Billy’s same sex relationship than anything else.  When the homosexual relationship is not being focused on, the chauvinistic Jack Kramer (head of the tennis league) and Bobby Riggs are in the spotlight blasting women players as completely inferior to their male counterparts.   While I am sure Billy’s transition to homosexuality was complex during this period and that women were often mistreated, Battle of the Sexes seems to take both stories to extremes to make a point.  And at the conclusion of the movie, instead of standing triumphant declaring that women are not inferior to their male athletic counterparts, Battle of the Sexes declares one-day Billy will have the freedom to love who she wants.  Certainly the movie would not have been complete with Billy’s challenges coming out in the 70s as well as the chauvinistic climate of male dominated sports, but the movie seems to have misplaced focus and as a result fails to deliver the compelling movie it could have.

3 out of 7 – PG13 for some explicit homosexual themes, adult situations and some foul language.  The acting carries some of the poor story but in the end, Battle of the Sexes fails to deliver the depth of story contained in historical events.