“Battle of the Sexes” opened on September 22, telling the true story of the 1973 tennis match between female champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and chauvinist male tennis pro Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It was a high-pressure moment for King, who had fought for pay equality for women’s tennis and was risking the credibility of women in sports — and women’s liberation in general — by taking on the 55-year-old Riggs. Watching a competent woman take on a buffoonish and blatantly sexist male opponent will feel a tad familiar to audiences who lived through the politics of the last two years, but how did critics respond to this eerily relevant sports story?
As of this writing the film has a strong MetaCritic score of 73 and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 88% freshness. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, previously known for their Oscar winning indie comedy “Little Miss Sunshine,” “bring that era to life with verve and humor.” The movie “excels” as entertainment, and it’s “dramatized expertly.” The lead performances by Stone and Carell are “agile and perceptive.” Stone, in particular, “nails King’s thoughtful directness.”
Carell previously earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for “Foxcatcher” (2014), while Stone has been nominated for two Oscars, winning Best Actress earlier this year for “La La Land.” That could put Stone in an especially good position to return to the Oscar lineup; the academy loves actors who play real, recognizable figures, and with two noms in the last three years — she was also up for Best Supporting Actress in “Birdman” (2014) — she’s in the kind of honeymoon period where voters have shown an eagerness to embrace her repeatedly.
What do you think? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow movie fans in our forums.
Stephanie Zacharek (Time): “The performances in ‘Battle of the Sexes,’ agile and perceptive, keep the game alive every minute. Carell plays Riggs more as an affable, unenlightened boob than a villainous creep. And although the incandescently elfin Stone doesn’t much resemble King–who always looked both refined and California-friendly–she nails King’s thoughtful directness.”
Ann Hornaday (Washington Post): “Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris bring that era to life with verve and humor in “Battle of the Sexes,” a warm, earnestly entertaining film that revisits a pivotal 1973 match between a 55-year-old former Wimbledon champion named Bobby Riggs and 29-year-old tennis star Billie Jean King … It gives audiences a glimpse of where we’ve been, how far we’ve come and, soberingly, how far we’ve yet to go — especially when we’re with her.”
Manohla Dargis (New York Times): “It was personal and it was political, which ‘Battle of the Sexes’ gets. It was also entertainment, which is where the movie really excels … There’s a lot to follow and a great deal to look at, including an atmospherically embellished past that turns the movie into a veritable wayback machine of amusing and amusingly unfortunate colors and choices.”
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle): “All this is dramatized expertly and with a lightness of touch in Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay and in the direction of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris … In its focus on King, it’s also a compelling internal story, demonstrating that athletic achievement is not only a matter of physical gifts. At the highest levels, where the pressure is greatest, it really comes down to character.”
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