Battle of the Sexes (2017)
October 2, 2017 6:05 PM - Subscribe

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

Rolling Stone (Peter Travers): What does a movie about a 1973 tennis exhibition match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs have to say to millennials when everyone knows the war between so-called women's libbers and male chauvinist pigs ended last century? Ha! Starring a top-form Emma Stone as King and a perceptively flamboyant Steve Carell as Riggs, Battle of the Sexes is not an overtly political movie; it's a blast about two tennis champions going over the top to make a point. But in speaking to the marginalized, the movie comments bluntly on the here and now. Picture Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump swinging rackets. Plus ça change.

NY Times (Manohla Dargis): So it was personal and it was political, which “Battle of the Sexes” gets. It was also entertainment, which is where the movie really excels. Nice and easy, it sets the players and early 1970s scene, with Billie Jean (Emma Stone) already making history and Bobby (Steve Carell) largely sidelined. She’s making waves as a player and as a champion of women’s rights, including equal pay, and earning plaudits from the likes of President Nixon. Bobby seems to be living off his indulgent wealthy wife (Elisabeth Shue), a frozen smiler right out of Stepford, and spending time on idle in a fancy office. Mostly, Billie Jean is winning while Bobby is keeping boredom at bay.

The Guardian (Benjamin Lee): It’s a decent tennis movie, solidly told and choreographed, but it’s in the film’s depiction of a same-sex romance between King and her hairdresser, played beautifully by Andrea Riseborough, where things truly comes alive. At the time, King was married to a man, but when the pair meet, there’s an instant connection. There’s a clandestine electricity that radiates from their interactions, and also a genuine tenderness that develops in a time when such a relationship was almost impossible, at least within the public eye. It’s a finely handled dynamic, and Beaufoy deserves kudos for avoiding the easy route of lazily turning King’s husband Larry (no, not that one), into a villain. We feel for him as much as we do for the woozily romantic women.

Related previouslies:
Original 9 Female Tennis Stars Earned $1
The Match Maker
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? (6 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't have particularly high expectations: went into this expecting a decent, solid film, but nothing too special. Was pleasantly surprised by how good it was; none of the characters were portrayed as cartoonish, not even Bobby Riggs --- and lord knows, it would have been so easy for Steve Carell to go overboard with the real-life Riggs' hustler schitck. And I've got to hunt up more info on the actor who played Larry King; he turned in a beautiful and sensitive performance as Billie Jean King's husband.
posted by easily confused at 1:25 PM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm still ironing out why I loved this movie so much. I don't know tennis, I didn't know anything about Billie Jean King before devouring her Wikipedia article immediately post-movie, and I generally don't care for Steve Carell, but the story, the performances, everything was just so wonderful and charming and just...effervescent? The love story was handled really well, and the way Ted watched out for Billie Jean was so touching. I want to watch it again, and that hardly ever happens.

Also Sarah Silverman was fabulous.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 11:20 PM on October 6, 2017

I suspect that a lot of the appeal of this movie (which appealed to me greatly) was that it was the real-life Rocky movie that happened just a few years before Stallone's movie hit theaters. It may be hard for some to think of Billie Jean King as an underdog--this was when a tennis star making $100K in a year was exceptional--but that's established with the tennis promoter smiling as he flat-out refuses to give equal pay to women in tennis, even though they sell an equal amount of tickets. The movie also reminded me of the Netflix series GLOW, with the women sharing low-rent accommodations as they established their own thing. (There's even a rivalry of sorts with Margaret Court, who came off a bit better than she does in real life.)

And, yeah, the performances are all great. I think that the only other thing that I've seen Emma Stone in is Birdman, and she was fine in that, but there are a lot of tight close-ups in this film where it's really about what she's not saying, or can't say, that are just incredible. And I agree that Carrell keeps from going overboard with Riggs' shtick, which is something, because Riggs went overboard literally every chance that he could get. Carrell gets at the pathos of a man who can't stop fucking up and can't even hide it very well. And the supporting cast is likewise fantastic.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:00 PM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also really appreciated that it showed - Bobby Riggs was a goofball, he probably didn't believe most of what he was saying about women, it was all a joke to him, but sexism has consequences and so it was important for Billie Jean King to beat him, and her winning, even over a ridiculous person, had consequences too.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:06 PM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

After Riggs beat Court, a boy in my jr. high class needled me every day about the inferiority of women. So I watched the King-Riggs match with interest and was so thrilled when she won. I hated smirking loudmouth Bobby Riggs. It did amaze me that this movie was able to make Riggs semi-sympathetic. It was fun to look back at this story again.
posted by puddledork at 10:38 AM on October 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also saw this with no expectations. I was on a flight from London to San Francisco and I put it on just to pass the time. I was so delighted with it at the end and I've told at least 3 other people (women) to watch this. The things that have stuck with me:

- How classy King's responses to everything was, even to Riggs. Even gifting him the pig was actually classy, it totally allowed him to revel in playing up the part that he was revelling in. She was such a good sport about the whole thing. There were definitely situations where I would have reacted in a huff of disdain, but she just took things good natured with a smile and kept her focus on the real goal. Very inspirational.
- 100% agree re: Carell's performance being surprisingly and appropriately understated for such a bombastic character. He was nuanced and entertaining despite being set up as the obvious "baddie" and I think it's true acting talent that he managed to be sympathetic.
- Bill Pullman as the true baddie was great! I'm so used to him being the Nice Dependable Guy it was great to see him the old school mysogyinist Kramer.
- Larry King's portrayal was lovely. He was a lovely, supportive, kind man and handled with depth and complexity. I think his treatment seems true to what I've read of their relationship and that makes me feel good.
- The montage of responses of the end when King wins the competition really struck me. The reactions of the women vs the men was so interesting and.... alive! I really wish I had witnessed the game in person but I think felt a small part of what the women were feeling when she won.
posted by like_neon at 9:13 AM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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