Review / ‘Battle of The Sexes’ (PG) *** and a half

ON September 20, 1973, top-seeded woman tennis player 29-year-old Billie Jean King won $100,000 when she wiped the court in three straight sets in a challenge match against one-time world No. 1 tennis player Bobby Riggs then aged 55 and earning a living as a tennis hustler and gambler.

About 20 minutes into the screening of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ filming of Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay telling the events antecedent to that match, two adult and one apparently adolescent women walked out immediately when Billie Jean kissed hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) for the first time. I can only conjecture their reason. Did they find the moment offensive? Was one of them unwell? Did the moment’s intimations portend a need for an immediate threesome? Whatever, they missed a movie offering value even to people who’ve never picked up a racquet or had a sexual experience of either kind.

There’s much more to “Battle of The Sexes” than married Billie Jean’s acknowledgment of her lesbian choice. It deals with gender equality in sport. It depicts intelligent adults dealing with powerful disruptions in hitherto stable relationships. It examines the politics of sport – is winning more important than gate takings and prizemoney? Does the staging of spectacular sporting events justify the wealth they generate for their promoters?

The film’s highlights of that epoch-changing match before an audience packing the Houston Astrodome reflect the acting versatility of Emma Stone as Billie Jean and Steve Carell as Riggs. Filmmakers nowadays can create convincing images from technical wizardry. Was that the case here? I don’t think it matters. But I did find them as exciting as what TV now offers in real life.

 

At all cinemas

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