Battle of the Sexes

Too much Bobby, not enough Billie.

RIGGS KING

* * * 1/2

This telling of the events leading up to, and including, the tennis match instigated by Bobbie Riggs versus Billie Jean King and billed as a Battle Of The Sexes is fun and extremely easy to watch. But by dividing the film’s focus 50/50 between both players, and by bending over backwards to make Riggs seem like a totally acceptable dude in his own right rather than the bad guy, we are robbed of an insightful film about Billie Jean King, who is so obviously a more interesting, and historically significant, person than Riggs.

Riggs (Steve Carell) is portrayed as “wacky” but not disturbed, incorrigible but not troubled, annoying but not disturbing, frustrating but not dangerous. He’s like a tiny insect, pesky but not powerful enough to ruin your picnic. And, often, he’s “loveable”, and way too much time is given over to scenes with his wealthy, dramatically inert wife to try and prove it. I don’t think I’d find him loveable but the movie wants us to.

The other half of the film – Billie Jean’s half – is far superior, with Emma Stone giving a perfectly modulated, low-key performance. The film’s three thematic strands are The Match, Feminism, and King’s Transition to Gayness, and all three are touched on well if not enough.

The film looks great – it even has a 70s grain, and uses camera moves of the period, such as zooms – and the match itself is brilliantly re-created and, incredibly, tense as hell. But the movie feels like a massive missed opportunity. Emma Stone’s “Billie” would have been – potentially – a far richer film.

Incidentally, the portrayal of Margaret Court – given her current newsworthiness – is fascinating. Seems she was ever thus.