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Battle of the Sexes

Year: 2017
Production Co: Cloud Eight Films
Director: Jonathan Dayton
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Bill Pullman, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Elizabeth Shue, Fred Armisen, Jessica McNamee

The MeToo era is perfect for this story about sisters doing it for themselves, but writer Simon Beaufoy and director Jonathan Dayton do a very nice job of keeping any finger wagging or sociopolitics in the background, populating the foreground with real people who don't fit into handy moulds to impart a feminist message.

It's the (as far as can probably be ascertained) true story of the events leading to an exhibition match between female tennis champ Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and former Wimbledon champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

Ostensibly it was called the Battle of the Sexes and Riggs played his media-friendly part of the male chauvinist pig brilliantly, but Carell plays it smartly enough to portray a Riggs that wasn't anywhere near as overtly sexist as he appeared for the cameras, he just used his sudden notoriety to wring every ounce of publicity from the event.

According to the story, King had something a little more serious to prove. When we meet her at the beginning of the movie, she's gone to confront the CEO of the association that oversees professional tennis in the US (Bill Pullman) to challenge him on why the women players are paid less on the pro circuit, and he contends that audiences just aren't as interested in them.

So, along with a cadre of other female players she recruits to her cause, King goes on the road to form and promote a competing circuit just for female players, and they form a small feminist army to prove that fans are just as interested in them.

And all the while, Bobby, who's married into money and privilege but is mired in gambling debts and feels like his former glory is too far behind him, sees an opportunity to steal the spotlight back.

His first victory is against Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), the devout Christian world champion, who seems to be having an off day and who he defeats easily.

But King is the bigger prize, with even bigger stakes resting on the game. For Riggs, he needs to keep his money where his mouth is that he can beat any female player. For King, it's the chance to prove women’s' tennis is a viable commercial venture by beating the blowhard who beat the world number one (Court).

And all the while, although married to a supportive and steadfast husband, the hardly-even-realised gay King falls in love with the hairdresser that accompanies the association on the road (Andrea Riseborough).

The period detail is spot on, the tone is lively and digestible, the performances are all great and there's a message in the backdrop about equality that's (unfortunately) as timely and urgent today as it was in 1973.

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