Emma Stone has given the best performance of her career so far in Battle of the Sexes, a film that has a positive 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and is the rare crowdpleaser in the usual array of angst-ridden Oscar fare. There aren’t many films one can recommend to just about everyone (homophobes excluded), but this one is it. A mainstream LGTBQ sexual awakening film? Really? Yes, but it comes at a time when the insular world of film criticism has moved beyond that, which is why Call Me By Your Name is a critics’ darling and Battle of the Sexes isn’t. Billie Jean King is an activist and pioneer who was one of the first outspoken gay women in American culture and in sports. Her story matters. But it also matters because it is one of the films in the race that celebrates rebel women — Lady Bird is another, The Shape of Water another. Well-behaved women seldom make history. Or as Manohla Dargis opens her Battle review:
Every so often an exceptionally capable woman has to prove her worth by competing against a clown.
Here is our review of the film, and here are some excerpts from others:
From Mick LaSalle’s four star review:
Yet for all Riggs’ intentional silliness, something real was at stake here. Riggs may have been clowning his way to a major payday, but he still wanted to win, and his bluster had positioned him to do serious damage to women in tennis — and not only tennis. The movie shows and makes audiences feel how this battle of the sexes brought out real tensions between men and women, and between the forces of modernity and tradition. Thus, King carried the fate of her sport onto the court with her, and in a strange and less tangible way, the fate of American women.
This makes “Battle of the Sexes” a big-canvas story, a piece of Americana exploring American life and attitudes at a moment of cultural transformation. But 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.
And Stephanie Zacharek of 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. She also captures King’s marvelous antelope saunter, the casual grace this superb athlete radiated when she wasn’t running for the ball.
Battle of the Sexes isn’t a laundry-list account of everything King would later come to fight for, including LGBT rights. Instead, it’s the story of a woman, already a world-famous athlete, who didn’t yet know how much more she’d become. It’s easy to say, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Here’s someone who walked, or sprinted, every mile.