‘Battle of the Sexes’ Explores Equality, Sexuality, and Comedy

Battle of the Sexes

Imagine match point at the Wimbledon Women’s Singles Final.

Two incredible athletes volley the ball back and forth across the court at blistering speeds and with deadly precision. Everyone in the stands traces the exchanges with wide eyes. The hundreds of fans watch in awe upon the tiny green sphere as it flies, and none can look away. All of the eyes in the stadium gaze upon the ball, and only a final, crushing mistake can break their stares.

Battle of the Sexes recreates the entrancement experienced during a game of tennis on the big screen, and just like in the match, no one can look away.

This film recounts the events leading up to the “Battle of the Sexes,” a tennis match in 1973 between women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), and the long-retired tennis great Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). Instead of focusing singularly on the tennis match, the movie elects instead to hone in on King’s mental difficulties as she prepares for the match while struggling with the pressure of being the voice of women’s rights and understanding her own sexuality.

The film centers on King’s battle for gender equality. The entire “Battle of the Sexes” match occurs because Bobby Riggs wants to capitalize financially on the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association in response to the improper pay of female tennis players. King clashes with not only Riggs, who is actually the most innocently portrayed “villain” in the film, but with ultra-misogynist ex-tennis player Jack Kramer, the USTA, and the male-biased news stations and sports announcers.



True to the actual events of 1973, King also grapples with an internal struggle, as she meets her first same-sex lover, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). The scenes between King and Barnett are spectacular, with the shots framed extremely close to their faces. These close-ups seem to symbolize the chaotic confusion King is experiencing as she starts to have feelings for her new companion. Not only is the sensation new to her, it is also frowned upon at the time. With other gay characters in the main cast’s nucleus, the film properly and poetically pushes for LGBTQ+ rights.

It is rare that a film creates characters that hold opposing views while remaining sympathetic, but this movie does so gracefully. While there are the typical oppositional extremists against women’s rights, like Jack Kramer, and those against gay rights, like Margaret “The Arm” Court, Riggs is portrayed as a more nuanced and internally complex antagonist.

Riggs is not an unfeeling, sociopathic monster like many movie villains. He is a gambling addict who just lost his wife due to his obsession and will do anything to get her back. He is seen as a once influential man who is grasping at straws to reclaim the sense of relevancy he so vehemently desires.

While he does purposely become the face of the “anti-equal pay for women” movement, he does it almost entirely for money and publicity. His deviance stems from insecurity rather than from deeply held biases. Riggs even yields to many of Billie Jean’s demands throughout the movie so he will not miss out on the payday of the match if she refuses to play.

Tonally, the film is hysterical. Carell is side-splittingly comedic and Silverman portrays the hilarious founder of World Tennis Magazine, Gladys Heldman, very well. Both of these characters talk incessantly whenever they are on screen and for the most part it really works well. Stone and the supporting cast dole out their fair share of laughs as well. They do so at a slower pace so when they actually do say something funny it is far more impactful.

Battle of the Sexes is very good. The plot is well-crafted, even if it flies by too quickly for the film’s own good. The speed of the plot progression, however, may well symbolize the sudden whirlwind the characters are feeling as they change their lives in the blink of an eye. The characters are fantastic, and the chemistry between the actors is exciting to watch. The soundtrack is phenomenal, filling the movie with the chaotic and unorthodox song playing in the background.

See this film if you believe in women’s rights. See this film if you believe in LGBTQ+ rights. See this movie if you don’t. See this film if you exist on this planet. It’s that good, and it just might change the way you think for the better.

Featured Image by Fox Searchlight Pictures