Telluride 2017 “Battle of the Sexes” Review
The story of Billie Jean King is not one I had known before the screening of Battle of the Sexes at Telluride. The story told by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and writer Simon Beaufoy is nothing short of fantastic. Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is a famous tennis player fed up with the pay inequality that existed in women’s tennis in 1972. Determined to make a point, she and Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), left the close minded male dominated league to form their own, the Women’s Tennis Association.
The women formed the WTA, despite Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) believing they were bluffing and would fail. Behind the scenes, Billie Jean was grappling with her struggles regarding her marriage and sexuality. This is amplified when she begins a relationship with Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), despite being married to her husband, Larry. Meanwhile, famed tennis player Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a notorious gambler decides to challenge Billie Jean to a tennis match to settle once and for all that women aren’t as good as men. Billie Jean declines Rigg but was determined to prove his point. Rigg reaches out to Billie Jean’s rival Margaret Court who agrees but ultimately loses the match. This loss reinvigorates Billie Jean, and she accepts Rigg’s challenge, setting into motion The Battle of the Sexes.
Where Battle of the Sexes succeeds is not in showcasing tennis but in the very personal struggles of Billie Jean King and her determination, bravery, and strength to take a stand for what she believes is right. Emma Stone gives yet another astonishing performance and is sure to earn another Oscar nomination for her role. I would argue that her performance in this film is superior to that in La La Land. The emotional range and depth in this film are greater than in La La Land, and we get to see multiple sides of Billie Jean. Emma gives us a tender loving woman, a wife, a women’s lib icon, and tennis great. Her performance is nuanced and gives us a beautiful performance of a spectacular woman.
Steve Carell gives a solid performance but plays second fiddle to Emma Stone. His performance is filled with humor and zaniness but does have its tender moments. There is a scene where he and his wife are speaking, and it is where we get genuine emotion from him. The secondary characters are all great. Alan Cumming played Ted Tinling, one of the costume designers for the women’s uniforms and I felt his character added a loving touch to the film.
The film feels visually authentic to the 70s from the costume design to the hair and makeup. Each attention to detail only enriched the film and the environment and gave the actors a world in which to bring the story to life. Battle of the Sexes highlights a portion of the life of a truly inspirational and groundbreaking woman, Billie Jean King. Emma Stone brings her story to life and leaves the audience inspired by the determination and drive of this wonderful woman.