Battle of the Sexes is based on the 1973 real-life tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). While the event itself is significant, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 29 year old player triumphs over a 55 year old. The meaning is derived from the context the time period provides King’s personal life and professional career.
During the years leading up to the match, female tennis players on tour made 1/8 of the men’s earnings. Arguments for the disparity ranged from the need to pay men more as the household breadwinners to the fact that the women weren’t as competitive. This film is about more than a single tournament; Battle of the Sexes shows how fundamental King is to the feminist movement. It’s not a matter of being better than the men, but equal to them. King’s triumph on the tennis court is analogous to that of women everywhere.
King personal life is a challenge as well. She has to conceal her homosexuality through marriage to an inexplicably understanding husband in order to retain her place on the professional tennis circuit. Exposure can end her career. As with 2015’s Carol, the time period contributes to the gravitas of the story.
Battle of the Sexes strives to balance the personal and professional aspects of King’s career within the the movie’s runtime. Yet, neither storyline feels complete through no fault of the actors. Stone is as solid as expected. Carell and Sarah Silverman (Gladys) are particularly impressive.
Battle of the Sexes also stars Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming and Elisabeth Shue. It was directed by the husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
For more about themes in Battle of the Sexes and eagle eye details to watch for, take a look below:
All film photos are courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Fox Searchlight.