In 1973 Billie Jean King is at the height of women’s tennis. A fighter both on and off the court she clashes with the sports male-dominated establishment over their refusal to pay women equal prize money. Watching all this from his dull retirement, serial gambling addict and former mens tennis champion, Bobby Riggs spies an opportunity – a chauvinistic “battle of the sexes”; a $100,000 tennis match to be fought between himself and the best womens tennis player.
In this gentle dramatisation of true-life ’Battle of The Sexes’, the tone is less harsh than in James Erskin and Zara Hayes’s documentary of the same title. The reality and hostility of the times has been softened to focus instead on the personal lives of Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King.
Playing for more than pride…
Playing for more than pride, Emma Stone’s Billie Jean is risking the future of women’s liberation movement and the exposure of her own emerging sexuality in a contest that grows more bizarre with each passing exaggeration. As the overly effusive Bobby Riggs, Steve Caroll easily inhabits Rigg’s buffoonish exterior, whereas Emma Stone’s transformation is the more sober and more complete. Disappearing inside Billie Jean’s awkward hairstyle and iconic, rimmed glasses, she delivers a nuanced performance where only her character is left on court.
With a strong supporting cast including a scene-stealing Alan Cumming, ‘Battle of The Sexes’ delivers on its promise of a real-life story told with a minimum of invention and scenic spice. Whilst the documentary might be better at describing the hostility and hoopla of the times, director’s Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s drama instead takes us inside the pressures and personal lives of each player. In a story where the truth is even more outlandish than the fiction, this is a solid dramatisation that deserves a decent audience to cheer on its contestants.