Movie Review: A Sensational Battle of the Sexes

Movie Review: A Sensational Battle of the Sexes
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville nearly 20 years. Currently, he studies Journalism at Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Who knew that the sociological history of tennis could be so entertaining? And who could’ve imagined the same story would be so critically important?

Directors Jonathan Drayton and Valerie Faris are the answer to both these questions. Their biographical sports film Battle of the Sexes is the first great movie of the fall. It’s enormously satisfying and smartly captivating. But it succeeds as both terrific art and history because it’s about more than just tennis.

Sure it’s inspired by the true 1973 tennis showdown between Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). And sure, it examines the lives of both players before and after the match. The film’s dramatic heft, however, comes from the plot that surrounds the final showdown.

It’s a character study around King: the avid feminist, businesswoman, and athlete with an agenda as ferocious as her tennis. It moves through the 1972 beginning of the independent women’s tennis association to the famous series of man vs. woman headliner matches.

Billie Jean King’s fight is precisely interesting because it’s more than one conflict. The title “Battle of the Sexes” alludes to more than one thing. Was her greatest challenge playing the sport? Was it the famous match against Riggs? The misogyny in tennis? Handling the politics of sport as a business? Her rediscovered sexuality?

Despite so much action and change through King’s story, the film is tightly focused and never feels sluggish. Drayton and Faris’ outstanding direction and editing help focus the story towards her fascinating relationship with tennis bigot Bobby Riggs.

Photo: Fox Searchlight.

Steve Carrell and Emma Stone deeply ground the film, but Stone is the true star. She moves through the challenges and decisions of King’s professional and social life with poise and determination. This resolved confidence is played with a real talent to look like every scene she’s in is truly organic.

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Everything Stone does as King is believably happening right now for the first and only time. She’s mastered this difficult technique, and her performance is unquestionably worthy of an Oscar (and rumors suggest a nomination is imminent.)

The grand opponent, nostalgic 70s glamour and grit, and a brutal final match echo the beauty and starkness of great sports film of this era, like 1975’s Best Picture winner Rocky. The end sequence has a smart Rocky flair too, but not how you’d expect.

Battle of the Sexes is a great time at the movies. It’s whimsical nature and a few too many snarky men keep it from being among the year’s best. But it’s certainly among the most entertaining movies you’ll see this season, and definitely the grooviest.

This is an important look at what feminism was, and how all American social life was affected by prejudice. Beyond that, the fight artfully shows a perspective about King’s story as a cornerstone of feminism today, why the discussion continues, and what it’s becoming.

Mixed bags like this are hard to follow when it’s served to the wrong side of the court. But this score moves from the game – to set – to match.

Battle of the Sexes
3 1/2 out of 4 stars

PG, 122 minutes. Comedy Sports Biopic.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
Starring Emma Stone, Steve Carrell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming and Austin Stowell.
Now Playing at Cineplex Winston Churchill.

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