Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Elisabeth Shue, Alan Cumming and Bill Pullman Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Run Time: 2h 1min
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Sport
3 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
It seems that, politically speaking, we may be back to times where women had to fight a bit to shatter the glass ceiling, but hopefully not. Regardless, since you’ve either already lived through this time or are seeing a strange reemergence of it, Battle of the Sexes, a true story about a tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, is an interesting look back into the 1970’s conflict between men and women.
What starts this particular war is when King (Stone) is told by tennis official Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) that men are better than women in the game of tennis. She finds out he’s paying them eight times less than the men and demands he gives them a raise. She and her business partner Gladys Heldman (Silverman) try to reason with him and he runs down a list of why the men should and need to make more money than the women. When they explain that they’re selling as many tickets and that his logic doesn’t stand, his response is, ‘That’s the way it is.’ No matter what they say, he believes what he believes and nothing is going to change his mind. Right then and there, she and Gladys decide to boycott. Not only boycott but create their own tennis tournament, the Women’s Tennis Association. They’ll also make sure it plays at the same time as his. And they do exactly that. They get all of the best players, Gladys gets Virginia Slims to sponsor, they sign contracts in front of the media and they’re on their own.
Interestingly enough, the film is directed by husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who also directed Ruby Sparks and Little Miss Sunshine. It’s kind of fun to think they may have had a few clashes behind the lens on how to shoot the two main players. If they did, it certainly didn’t come out in their work. But maybe someone got some good behind-the-scenes footage of an argument or two. Anyway, the other side of this story is fifty-five-year-old, ex-tennis champion and proud, self-proclaimed chauvinist pig, Bobby Riggs (Carell), who loves to gamble with his pals at the country club. The scenes he’s in brings the comic relief in what’s an otherwise, perhaps unexpectedly heavy film. Riggs character is one you’ll walk away wanting to know more about. He is a hustler who’ll make a bet for anything with anyone from his wealthy friends to his shrink, who his rich wife Priscilla (Shue) hired to help him with his addiction.
After watching the news talk on and on about Billie Jean King, he can’t help but offer the top women’s player a chance to play and defeat him to see if she’s really any good. He also wants to win so he can say the best women’s player is actually a man. His opinion of women is that they should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom, not in sports. King, who takes the game very seriously, refuses to be a part of his circus and turns him down, but when she loses a match to Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) he makes the offer to her and she takes the bet. Riggs is excited. He enjoys making fun of women and proving that even their best can’t beat man, the ‘superior animal.’ He hopes this will put an end to Women’s Lib and them wanting equality.
Watching Court lose and listening to Riggs disrespect women, King must step in. When he, on national T.V., offers a $100,000 purse to any woman who thinks she has what it takes to beat him, she takes him up on it.
The film goes into her life off the court, as well. She’s married to Larry (Austin Stowell), a wonderful man who manages and takes good care of her, but she meets Marilyn Barnett (Riseborough), a hairdresser who ends up on the tour with them. She gives in to what she has been denying herself and has an affair. The way this is handled is very tasteful, showing her joy but also her struggle and confusion for what she has done. What’s touching is that they show Larry when he finds out about the affair and how hurt he is, knowing this is not someone he could possibly compete with. Instead, he offers Marilyn some advice and something to think about, which is that’s he’s just the husband, she’s the phase, but what Billie Jean King truly loves above all is… tennis.
When the movie gets to the action on the court, where they played in the Houston Astrodome, televised by ABC around the world, we see real footage of Howard Cosell announcing the game and clips of celebrities telling the television audience who they were either rooting for or thought would win, actor Lloyd Bridges among them. A young Chris Everett offers her thoughts and she is going with Riggs. What was interesting to see was that during the match, the audience in the theatre was getting into the match as though they were watching one going on live. Even if you know the outcome, you might be choosing your favorite player or character, silently cheering them on. The movie could have and arguably should have had more comedy based on what the trailers originally had you thinking it would have, but this turns out to be more of a biopic on Billie Jean King. So if you’re wanting a lot of laughs, you’d be disappointed, but if you want to see a good story overall, you won’t be.
Sit tight for the post-script information about what happened to these two after the game and for photos.
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