In 1973, Billie Jean King faced off against Bobby Riggs in a tennis match in Houston’s Astrodome. King was near the top of her game. Riggs was over the hill but still playing. The film story of their match (and events leading up to it) is a drama/comedy with a huge splash of 70’s nostalgia.
The main reason to see Battle of the Sexes is Steve Carell’s performance as Bobby Riggs. He’s hilarious but also a bit pitiful and tragic.
Emma Stone is strong as King, fighting hard to get attention for women’s tennis while resetting her sexual identity.
Battle of the Sexes is being sold as a movie about the tennis match and the boost the contest gave to women’s sports. Which it is.
But it is also King’s coming out story, which is not a prominent part of the film’s trailers and other marketing. Is Hollywood afraid to promote that aspect of the film? Brokeback Mountain was twelve years ago.
Husband/wife director duo Johnathan Dayton and Valerie Faris neatly weave audio and video from the actual ABC broadcast of the event with the hyperbolic commentary of Howard Cosell. The clothing and hairstyles of the era—and the presence of cigarettes—are accurately recreated by the movie’s design crews.
The film’s supporting cast includes: Andrea Riseborough as BJK’s partner Marilyn Barnett. Jessica McNamee as nasty King rival Margaret Court. Fred Armisen as Riggs’s supplier of vitamins and supplements. Sarah Silverman as a chainsmoking womens tennis promoter. Elizabeth Shue as Riggs wife. And Bill Pullman as former tennis great Jack Kramer.
Battle of the Sexes is not a typical melodramatic sports movie a la Rocky, Rudy, etc. There’s melodrama, yes, but also a good dose of fun, mainly from Carell.
Could any of today’s top female tennis players beat one of today’s top men’s players? Hard to say, but it’s doubtful. Maybe one could score a win against an old guy. Would America tune in to watch Serena versus McEnroe? Would you? Stay tuned!