Bat­tle of the Sexes re-en­acts a fa­mous mo­ment in the fight for gen­der equal­ity. Does it go far enough?

Esquire (UK) - - Contents - Edited by Mi­randa Collinge

Fem­i­nist point scor­ing with Emma Stone and Steve Carell; it’s dead trendy up North; Black Mir­ror star Joe Cole; Andy Weir, au­thor of The Mar­tian, goes to the moon; what to do about Mor­ris­sey?; three new doc­u­men­taries to change your mind; James Franco’s new movie is about the worst film ever made; a cel­e­bra­tion of the best ever Bri­tish style mag; Jamie Hewlett: buy the book

If you had to name the most like­able ac­tors in Hol­ly­wood, Emma Stone and Steve Carell would surely be the top seeds. And if you wanted to make a film about the 1973 ten­nis match be­tween su­per­star Bil­lie Jean King and faded ex-pro Bobby Riggs that por­trayed both play­ers as, well, like­able, you’d want those two on board. Which is what Lit­tle Miss

Sun­shine di­rec­tors Jonathan Day­ton and Va­lerie Faris seem to have gone for with their new movie, Bat­tle of the

Sexes, and with the ex­pected re­sults. A like­able film star­ring like­able peo­ple about some other like­able peo­ple. Lit­tle blue thumbs-ups all round.

But the sub­ject is a se­ri­ous one. In 1972, Bil­lie Jean King had just tri­umphed at the US Open, when word

got out of a new tour­na­ment of­fer­ing the men’s cham­pion eight times more than the win­ner of the women’s com­pe­ti­tion. Her protest got her kicked out of the United States Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion. (Progress stayed slow: male and fe­male Wim­ble­don win­ners didn’t win equal cash prizes un­til 2007.) It also sparked a brain­wave in mas­ter self­pub­li­cist Riggs: the match that be­came the most watched sports event on TV at the time.

Bat­tle of the Sexes plots the build-up to the game, along­side King’s grow­ing aware­ness of her own sex­u­al­ity — she was mar­ried but be­came in­volved with her hair­dresser (played by An­drea

Rise­bor­ough) — and Riggs’ own pri­vate con­cerns: a gam­bling habit and a de­sire to blow some hot air into his de­flat­ing ca­reer. When Riggs ca­vorts about in a “chau­vin­ist” T-shirt, he does so with car­toon­ish lack of sin­cer­ity, happy to play the panto vil­lain for another round in the lime­light.

The prob­lem is know­ing just who’s in on the joke. Are the male fans wear­ing “chau­vin­ist” T-shirts also be­ing ironic? Or can play­ing the com­edy misog­y­nist sim­ply em­power many more un­comedic misog­y­nists to come out of the wood­work? The film lets Riggs off the hook on this one, and maybe the au­di­ence too, so we can leave with hearts a lit­tle fuller than they were, and heads a lit­tle emp­tier than they per­haps should be.

Bat­tle of the Sexes is out in cin­e­mas on 24 Novem­ber

Wres­tle ma­nia: Emma Stone and Steve Carell, left, play out the 1973 Riggs ver­sus King match, be­low, in Bat­tle of the Sexes

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