When I heard that Steve Carell and Emma Stone were teaming up to retell the story behind the 1973 Battle Of The Sexes tennis matches involving Bobby Riggs, Billie Jean King and Margaret Court, and that it was a comedy, I was expecting something significantly different than what I saw in the theater last night. And because actors typically enjoy their films being nominated for Academy Awards, Carell and Stone should be very pleased with how it turned out.
Instead of the slightly goofy, Will Ferrell type offering I was expecting, Battle Of The Sexes was actually much more of a dramatic character study, whereby one of those characters just happened to do some entertaining things to drum up publicity for the tennis matches. I was a little surprised, but I should have been. Both of the actors have done great dramatic work over the past couple years.
Emma Stone has long since moved on from things like Superbad, Easy A and the Amazing Spider-Man movies, I just need to start framing my expectation that way. It’s no wonder she was cast here as Billie Jean King, given what she showed in La La Land and Birdman in the couple of years before being cast here. And make no mistake, this movie is about Billie Jean King.
Were the filmmakers hoping to go the more comedic route, they could have focused more on the antics of Bobby Riggs, but that’s clearly not the direction they wanted to take the film. Instead, the focus was on the role King’s sexual orientation played in the early days of the Virginia Slims tour and on her preparation for a match with Bobby Riggs. It also delved into King’s stance against gender pay inequality in tennis.
Sure, the film also gave us plenty of insight into Bobby Riggs, what his motivations were behind setting up the historic tennis matches and going wild promoting them. While this part of the film got sufficient time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Carell’s nomination is once again just as a Supporting Actor, whereby Stone’s is as the Lead Actress. She probably gets three-times the screen time that Carell gets, and rightfully so. He was battling personal demons and a struggling marriage, with age-related discrimination as a secondary issue, whereas King was leading a movement while dealing with some heavy personal issues. She was becoming an icon while standing up for her beliefs and against inequality; he was mostly in it for the cash and to stave off boredom.
Both leads did a phenomenal job, and I won’t be surprised if either or both of them get nominated for an Academy Award. In fact, I’ll be surprised if Emma Stone doesn’t, and I’d say the odds for Carell are better than 50/50.
The filmmakers did a great job of presenting this nomination-likely film by capturing many historical moments with considerable accuracy. During the first minute of credits and while getting images to go with this review, it was great to see so many of the moments from the film as they actually looked back in 1973.
If you’re not simply looking for a light, fun film to watch in the theater, there’s plenty of reasons that BATTLE OF THE SEXES should be one of the top films you consider watching during your next trip to the box office.
My rating: 90 out of 100