Battle of the Sexes hits theaters September 22.
This engaging, entertaining film is sure to grab people’s attention just because of the two main stars, Emma Stone, coming off La-La Land, and Steve Carell, a TV favorite. Both do an excellent job of portraying real people, one who is still alive. The movie tells the story of the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973, termed “The Battle of the Sexes” by ABC Sports. The nationally televised match, held at the Houston Astrodome, between 55-year-old Riggs and 29-year-old King, which King won in three sets, attracted massive attention and was viewed by an estimated 90 million people around the world. King’s win was considered a milestone in public acceptance of women’s tennis.
While the storyline does follow how the match came to be and does show the match, with spliced-in actual footage, the film is really a tribute to Billie Jean King and how she raised the status of women’s tennis before ever agreeing to play Riggs. She encourages women players to leave the sexist United States Lawn Tennis Association and launches her own women’s tournament with Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), sponsored by Virginia Slims. At the same time, the film tells how King, a married woman, begins an affair with a woman, a hairdresser named Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) and discovers she is a lesbian. Her dilemma as a famous athlete in a less-accepting time is depicted well, with the team’s fashion designer (Alan Cumming) serving as her confidante.
Bobby Riggs’ story was less interesting to me, although Carell plays him well. He is a sad figure, trying to both latch on to the past (As a 21-year-old amateur in 1939, Riggs won Wimbledon, the U.S. National Championships [now U.S. Open], and was runner-up at the French Championships. He was U.S. champion again in 1941, after a runner-up finish the year before.), and denigrate women. He is an over-the-top gambler, thereby providing the film with some comic relief.
For someone who is too young to remember the real-life events that “Battle of the Sexes” is based on, the movie was educational and engaging. I found myself really rooting for King and the women. Even though I knew who the ultimate winner would be, watching the game was still tension-filled. It’s possible that an older viewer who followed the story in 1973 might be a little bored, as the film is a full two hours long. Stone’s performance (it was strange to see her with brown hair) kept this viewer going through the whole film.
I give Battle of the Sexes an A-.