(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up. As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews. Enjoy!)
Don’t you hate it when a movie starts out strong, then withers and dies by the end? Battle of the Sexes advertised its main plot as the storied tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and it gets there eventually. Prior to that, it wanders like a drunken pinball between the beginning of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), lesbianism, chauvinism, infidelity, gambling problems, and women’s equality.
Among all of that, the movie forgets to show any actual tennis beyond a minute or so (until the big match, that is) and doesn’t sell the audience that King is as devoted to tennis as the script keeps telling us. After bouncing around those topics, the pinball lands on King’s affair with her hair dresser, Marilyn Barnett, and the film falls into bad movie cliches, including Barnett showing up at the big match to give King a last-minute pick-me-up. No, not that kind of pick-me-up, Barnett just trims King’s hair. This is a bad writing decision on so many levels, not least of which is undermining the drive to win of a multi-grand slam winner. The affair doesn’t play into anything other than being blamed for King losing the number one ranking to Margaret Court, so why have it at all?
The movie’s entire premise is man vs. woman. Woman vs. woman contradicts that. If they had cut that part out altogether and focused on the match and the fledgling WTA fighting the sexist men running the USLTA (and paying them a tenth of what the men got), the movie would have lived up to its title. Suffice it to say, the movie wastes great performances from Steve Carell (Riggs), Emma Stone (King), Sarah Silverman (Gladys Heldman, the WTA women’s agent), and Bill Pullman (Jack Kramer, head of the USLTA) in a boring screenplay. Tilt!
Rating: Ask for seven dollars back and return that serve.