‘Battle of the Sexes’ is a film that has never been more relevant. And with the atmosphere in Hollywood after the Harvey Weinstein and other abuse scandals, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t get more than a few nods at the Oscars and Golden Globes. The film is a constant volley between the battle of the sexes – both the public match and the private battles they faced – and is still so relevant it’s almost sickening. I wish I could go into more depth about how much, but in the interests of keeping this review spoiler free, I’ll stick to general points.
The film is based around the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King, (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and it serves as the match point, if you will, of the film. Before that though, we are introduced to the tennis world of 1973, and where each of the players stand in the world of American tennis. Most of the film is their progress towards that pivotal match and Emma Stone as Billie Jean King is a true crusader in this film. To her, the battle of the sexes is a match to be won, not a battle to be won to prove women are better than men – she very emphatically states this – but a match to prove women are equal to men. It’s a battle for equality, in many different senses. For Bobby Riggs, this is a match to prove male superiority, another gamble for him to win. The acting in the film is truly phenomenal, as both actors are fully believable in their roles. It’s testament to Steve Carell’s acting ability that he makes Riggs’ even seem funny in this film. True to his slogan, he is a chauvinistic pig, as are many of the men portrayed in this film.
It’s an important point to consider in this movie: the role of men, and male influence on women. The attitude of men in this film – that of women as biologically inferior, and useful only in the bedroom and the kitchen – is still not dissimilar to male attitude now. Men repeatedly baby women in this film, and touch women inappropriately, which shows how little has really changed in the battle for equality. We need only look to who has been elected President of the United States. This was particularly on my mind during one part of this film, where one tennis commentator, as he commentates with Natalie Morales, has his hand firmly holding on to her neck. It’s uncomfortable to watch, as he talks down to her.
But that’s not to say all men are like that in this film. Larry King (Austin Stowell) and Ted Tinling (Alan Cummings) are firmly on the side of the women, supporting them from the very beginning. But their characters are very much in the minority. When Billie Jean King asks at the very beginning of the film why the female tennis winner would not win as much as their male counterparts, it’s basically mansplained to her that ‘women don’t have as much of a draw,’ despite this not being true. And this part, immediately caught my attention, because it’s the same argument that is used now. ‘Battle of the Sexes’ may be a film set in 1973, but with all the points it hits on sexism, it could have been set today.