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The Yorker at LIFF 31: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directing pair behind Little Miss SunshineStarring Emma Stone as Women’s World Tennis Champion Billie Jean King and Steve Carrell as former No.1 Men’s Tennis Champion Bobby Riggs; braggart hustler Riggs claims he can beat any woman on court and is challenged to a gladiatorial match by King – who is already fighting for equal prize money for women. It was one of the most watched sporting events of the 1970s.

Both stars are fantastic in their roles, Stone’s portrayal of Billie Jean King’s complex view of herself and her repressed homosexuality is heartbreaking. Carrell’s performance manages to juggle two of the best sides of his acting career. His comedy chops are clearly visible in many moments but underlying Riggs’ sense of humour is a tragic side: a desperate gambler who fears becoming irrelevant, so plays up to a persona. His performance is one which pairs comedy and tragedy so closely to one another that it feels as if each joke he makes is a thinly veiled avoidance of his problems. Alan Cumming, Sarah Silverman, Andrea Riseborough and Elisabeth Shue are all compelling in supporting roles but are massively overshadowed by the two main stars. A highlight however is Bill Pullman’s performance as Jack Kramer and he plays the misogynist villain in a suitably loathsome manner

The cinematography is beautiful, shot with hazy 70s-esque filter which is incredibly evocative. The soundtrack adds to each scene and supports the well emotions of the characters brilliantly. The complex love story built between King and her female hairdresser has a dreamlike quality and the scene in which they meet achieves this with an absence of sound, emphasising the majestic shots of the two actors’ smiling faces.

Dayton and Faris do an excellent job of critiquing a misogynistic and homophobic 70s society. They do this by first presenting what I assume, to be a realistic depiction of the period. The costumes, production design, and visual style all contribute to creating a believable world, in which the sexist attitudes are quickly unveiled in almost every single male character. The convincing arguments of King, conflicts massively with the male perspective which comes across as barbaric.

This serves to highlight how far society has come and should be held in high regard. The attitudes depicted are shocking and illustrate why we should avoid regressing back to that point and that we should continue to strive towards equality. The inequalities build effectively so that the stakes feel monumental. The tennis match is recreated in stunning detail and is as powerful as the material which has led up to it.

The timing of the release of the film couldn’t have been better at highlighting the current concerns in sport, Hollywood, politics and many other industries and institutions. Battle of The Sexes is an uplifting film which is certainly worth a watch. It’s exploration of themes of repression of sexuality and misogyny are ever relevant and render this film an important viewing on top of being an entertaining one.

Battle of the Sexes is screening as part of LIFF 31. Tickets are available from LeedsFilmCity.com. Image source: EW.com