Battle of the Sexes | Film | M
Review by TIM LAM
All eyes will turn to Melbourne Park over the next fortnight as the world’s top players battle it out for the most prestigious tennis trophy in the Asia-Pacific region.
This year’s Australian Open has been shrouded in controversy before a ball was struck, with women’s tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King calling on Tennis Australia to rename Margaret Court Arena following the Australian’s remarks about homosexuality.
King has long been an outspoken advocate for gender equality and LGBTI rights and her pioneering role in women’s tennis was recently turned into a Hollywood production.
Battle of the Sexes documents the historic 1973 tennis match between 29-year-old Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and 55-year-old former tennis champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell).
Riggs, a self-proclaimed chauvinist, famously claimed he could beat any female professional tennis player. After easily defeating Court in straight sets, Riggs challenged world number one King to a “battle of the sexes” to prove male superiority.
Directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes serves up an entertaining re-creation of one of the most watched sports matches of all time.
Emma Stone gives a strong performance as Billie Jean King. While Stone and Carrell both receive top billing, this is primarily a King biopic.
As the film builds to the climatic showdown between King and Riggs, it also delves into King’s off-court dramas as she becomes embroiled in an affair with her hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough).
Steve Carrell brings plenty of hubris and humour to his role as Bobby Riggs.
It is easy to reduce Riggs to a chauvinistic caricature, but Carrell handles the character with sensitivity. He is depicted not just as a boisterous showman but also a desperate hustler struggling with marriage problems and a gambling addiction. He espouses old-school sexism to disguise his deep-rooted fear of his own obsolescence.
Tennis may have made significant strides since the 1970s, but many of the gender issues in Battle of the Sexes remain relevant today.
Retired tennis great John McEnroe ignited controversy last year when he said Serena Williams would be ranked 700 if she played on the men’s circuit.
At last year’s French Open, male tennis player Maxime Hamou tried to forcibly kiss a female reporter during a live interview.
While the four grand slams have equal prizemoney for women and men, some pundits insist men should be paid more, citing higher television figures and longer match duration.
The real antagonist in Battle of the Sexes is not Bobby Riggs; it is the insidious sexism perpetuated by tennis administrators who run an industry designed to systematically disadvantage women.
With nearly daily revelations of sexual harassment by high-profile celebrities, Battle of the Sexes is a timely reminder of the misogynistic attitudes that still prevail more than four decades on. It is also a tribute to all the pioneers who have fought for a more equal world, a battle that is far from over.
Battle of the Sexes is out on DVD on 17 January.