BATTLE OF THE SEXES. The Match for Dignity

“Battle of the Sexes” sometimes dangerously approaches didacticism, but for the most part, it presents the fight against unacceptable standards very thoughtfully.

Mikołaj Lewalski

3 March 2024

Fact: women are weaker and slower than men. Women handle stressful situations worse. Women should remember that their place is at home – in the bedroom or kitchen. It is men who are tasked with providing for the family. Men provide a more exciting spectacle. Men deserve higher salaries and rewards. Men are better athletes. A woman cannot be a worthy opponent for a man.

United States, early 1970s. Such opinions and similar ones are shared by the majority. Patronizing and disdainful remarks from well-off white men sipping expensive whisky in lavish offices dictate the worldview to the entire society. The superiority of men over women in practically every aspect of life seems unquestionable and objective. Mocking remarks towards women dedicating their lives to sports don’t surprise anyone, and overt displays of disrespect towards the “weaker sex” are met with applause. In such a sea of ignorance, it’s easy to simply lower your head and follow the rest. However, Billie Jean King was not one to accept such a massive social inequality. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s film shows us the turning point in tennis history and how the young champion decided to change the status quo.

The match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs took place on September 20, 1973. It was an incredibly spectacular event – over 30,000 spectators attended, and the television broadcast was watched by 90 million viewers worldwide. Emotions were at their peak, and the outcome of the match was to have significant and symbolic significance. However, all of this takes place in the final act of the film, and the preceding one and a half hours aim to allow us to understand the characters of both players and the entire socio-historical context, which is an integral part of this story.

King simply uses her growing position to speak out on the issue of gender equality in sports, while Riggs tries to spice up the life of a retired world champion. Bobby’s idea for the match, referred to as the Battle of the Sexes, is the result of a gambling addiction and an attempt to restore his faded glory. Unfortunately, the film treats the tennis player rather superficially and doesn’t devote much time to presenting his inner self, focusing instead on the media circus he creates. Fortunately, the reliable Steve Carell effectively gives his character more depth than is contained in the script, without losing any of his unique comedic touch.

From the very beginning, however, the film focuses on Billie and her inner turmoil. Emma Stone convincingly portrays the talented and brave champion, who is also a shy and lost person. Her lack of confidence off the court is largely due to repressing her homosexuality, which she comes to understand with the help of a woman who falls in love with her. The romance between the characters sometimes dominates the rest of the story and unfortunately tends to get bogged down in clichés and predictability. Although undoubtedly an important theme for the protagonist, it should not be realized at the expense of the film’s main theme. However, it certainly allows the husband of Billie to shine in an interesting way, as he is an invaluable support to her regardless of what happens. He is a man who understands his wife’s priorities and fully accepts them, knowing when to step in and when to step back. Thanks to him, the film maintains at least one positive portrayal of a heterosexual man, without insulting the viewer’s intelligence with a black-and-white division into good and evil.

In terms of presenting the overall message, the tone of criticism of chauvinism, and the promotion of the idea of ​​equality, “Battle of the Sexes” sometimes dangerously approaches didacticism, but for the most part, it presents the fight against unacceptable standards very thoughtfully. Relying on excellent acting and understated directorial humor, the directing duo, known more widely for “Little Miss Sunshine,” once again effectively articulates important ideas. And although this time there was a slight lack of better judgment, the ability to portray true emotions, great music selection, and thoughtful camera work make their latest work not only a morality tale but also a good film.