Battle of the Sexes

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All of our lives are made up of a variety of events. These are not just the events that happen to us as individuals, but also the events we experience together. If you ask anyone where he or she were on December 7th, 1941, if they were alive they could tell you. The same can be said for when we landed on the moon or when JFK was assassinated, these events become etched in our minds. For some the date September 20th 1973 stands out, as it is the day a woman tennis player beat her male counterpart, in what was labeled “The Battle of the Sexes.” While on the surface it looked like just a publicity stunt, or just a game, but underneath there were so many things in play, and still means something to this day.

Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) was the top women’s tennis player in the world in the early seventies. While being on top would be good with most, King used her position to fight for equality for women in the sport, mainly in the prize money department. In King’s eyes, if the women drew the same attendance as the men, then they should be paid like them as well. In a world that was ruled by men, they did not share that opinion, and in response, King left the tour and with a group of other women players formed their own. That was the right card for King to play, as she and the other women built from scratch the Virginia Slims Circuit. At about that time, a retired male player named Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) came up with the idea that he should play the best woman in the world as a gimmick to make some money. While he wanted King, she initially turned him down and Riggs settled for Margaret Court, who at the time was the # 1 woman’s player in the world at the time. It was only after watching Court lose that King realized what she must do, which set up one of the biggest sporting events ever and something a lot of people would never forget.

In my eyes, making a film about an important historical event can have a difficult time. It seems to me that the problem lies in capturing the highs and the lows the event actually brought. I think for it to work, it has to give us a peek behind the curtain in the right way to bring us back to a place we have experienced already, and is some cases never before. “Battle of the Sexes” tried to do that, but never seems to find the right mix. Writer Simon Baufoy instead of focusing on the event that gave the film its title tries to tell the story of what got them there and then ending on the event.

This is not to lessen the problems or the accomplishments that King experienced; it just doesn’t seem to work here. The story choices instead of helping push the narrative only slows it down and at times is a chore to get through. There were few things I liked about this film, the performances being one, while the other was the actual match that gave the film its title. While the story might have a lot of truth to it, it lacks the fun and is completely misrepresented by the trailer for something it is not. Maybe the event was something that couldn’t be replicated, but if you are a fan of the history of tennis, then it’s game, set, match if you are expecting this to be entertaining.

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