Tropic Sprockets / Battle of the Sexes

By Ian Brockway

For both sports fans and those who enjoy topical parallels, Johnathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) have created a well done and amusing period piece about Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The film is amusing, easy on the eyes and at times it reaches the happy brightness of Pop Art.

Fifty-five year old tennis star Riggs (Steve Carell) is down on his luck. He gambles and is on the rocks with his wife (Elizabeth Shue). He needs a way to get back on top, so he gets an idea to challege Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) under the premise that women are physically inferior and cannot compete well with men.

Riggs taunts King with an offer for a match but she refuses. After a stunning win by Riggs against Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), King agrees to play, reasoning correctly that it will advance efforts to get equal tournament pay for women.

Riggs tries to intimidate King by loud postures and wild costumes. His message: women have no place on the court against men.

Although there are flashes of his Office role of Michael Scott here, Carell does very well, embodying Riggs’ tenacious spirit, his arrogance and his pranks.

Stone is also striking and authentic as King, showing an athlete in a zen singularity, at one with the game.

The film also highlights King’s struggle in finding romantic harmony when meeting the brightly dressed and sunny Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) who has all the mysterious allure of of an adult Lolita dressed in pinks and reds, complete with big 70s era sunglasses.

While at first seeming a light comedy (given the bit parts of Sarah Silverman as a tough talking King peer and Fred Armisen as a nutrition coach) Bobby Riggs is no laughing matter as the match progresses with tension to all but mimic the nail biting scenes in “Rocky.” The match scenes alone will have you cheering in your seat.

The iconic Alan Cumming has a cameo too as Ted Tinling the fashion designer who came up with King’s winning dress.

“Battle of the Sexes”  is an excellent and colorful time capsule of the period. It proves a fine tonic against our current news cycle which is rife with male chauvinists and other disturbed creatures who carry their penises aloft for all to see. Hero-worshippers take heart: Billie Jean King is a Wonder Woman in both flesh and spirit, as she successfully challenges and changes the male-dominated courts.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com