2017 has been quite the year for the biopic genre, having already seen the likes of The Founder, All Eyez on Me, and Borg v McEnroe amongst others. The latest to step into the court, if you will, is Battle of the Sexes. The film tells the true story behind the eponymous sporting event that made history back in 1973, when women’s world champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-men’s world champion, not to mention serial hustler, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) competed against one another in a game of tennis. But not only does this story show the build-up to the match for the players, as well as their game on-court, but also both King and Riggs in their personal lives as they each deal with their own inner turmoil and struggles – the former coming to terms with her sexuality; the latter coping with a serious gambling addiction.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris have crafted an undeniably boisterous and euphoric biopic here. Battle of the Sexes is an absolute riot: radiating an infectious charm and sincerity that will swallow you up the same way the excitement of being at a live tennis match would. Yes, this is a very traditional sports biopic: the film checks off every box on the formula, but it does so with a fair amount of heart. There’s predictability and conventions aplenty to this perennial tale, perhaps acting as somewhat of a hindrance to the proceedings, but the characters and the story are so enrapturing nonetheless that it makes for some thoroughly enjoyable viewing.
Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay is sharp and grounded with palpable authenticity: these characters are likeable but they’re also flawed and relatable. The blistering dynamic between Riggs and King is also captured superbly, their game of cat-and-mouse is often riveting with both Steve Carrell and Emma Stone excelling in their roles. Carrell brings a charm and heart to Riggs, whilst Stone embodies King with a steely determination and vigour – yes, it’s a performance you’ll see talked about come Oscars season, and rightfully so. The pair have such veritable chemistry too, and are utterly compelling to watch here.
The film can lose its footing slightly and it drags in its middle act, and the conventional nature of this biopic is unavoidable, but it’s still such a rousing affair and one delivered with such graceful aplomb. Battle of the Sexes is a thoroughly enjoyable crowd-pleaser that takes the shot and doesn’t miss; your jaw will seriously hurt from smiling by the end.