Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars
Bottom Line: Man, Billy Jean King is awesome. And Bobby Riggs was a lovable prick. This is their story. Dun DUN!
The Battle of the Sexes, a tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs, happened the week before I was born so I don’t have a memory of it at all nor do I recall hearing anything about it until previews of this movie started showing. For most of the world, it was merely a spectacle, but for Billy Jean King, it was dead serious. It was about pride and position and being taken seriously in the world of tennis and general misogyny. That was 1973. Very little has changed. Women still have to fight for equal pay in the sports arena even when they draw larger crowds, bring in more revenue, and outperform the men’s teams.
The Battle of the Sexes tennis match is more of an epilogue to the movie than the main attraction. The meat of this movie focuses on Billy Jean King’s (Emma Stone) fight for equality in tennis and being a complete bad-ass while doing so. Whereas most people would simply cave to demands if it meant the very real and likely loss of your career, King and the rest of the women players walked away from the professional tennis league they were a part of to start their own women’s league after a protest over equal pay. What strength these women had! The two other tangential stories that are important to this movie are King’s discovery of her own sexuality, which appeared to be handled beautifully in real life by all parties involved, and the showmanship and gross misogyny of Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). Bobby Riggs was what you’d call a character. A compulsive schemer and gambler, a theatrical sideshow and provocateur, you never quite get the feel for who the real Bobby Riggs was. Perhaps he didn’t even know himself. Despite being all that and an all around prick a lot of the time, he comes off as very lovable.
This movie is filled with great acting, not just by the two stars, Stone and Carell, but also Sarah Silverman as Gladys Heldman who was a character all unto herself and Natalie Morales as Rosie Casals who was also quite instrumental in paving the way for women’s tennis, though the movie doesn’t quite get into that story. The writing is also excellent and the dialogue is crisp and witty.
This is one of those movies that I would recommend everyone see. Even if you know and lived through the tennis match, there was so much happening behind the scenes that you probably don’t know about but should. It helps that it is a legitimately good movie. Though the Battle of the Sexes is a bit of a misnomer. It wasn’t then, nor does it continue to be today a battle between men and women, but a battle between dominance and equality. I like to think that equality will someday win through, but man has it been a long, though slough.