Battle of The Sexes Review – Grand Slam, Game, Set, Match, Win!

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Battle of the Sexes, from Fox Searchlight Pictures, presents 1973, the year women, led by powerhouse tennis player Billie Jean King, decided they were done with penny prize packages and to the chagrin of the establishment demanded equality.

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Battle of the Sexes stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Elizabeth Shue, Bill Pullman, Agnes Olech, Chris Parnell, Alan Cumming, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Jessica McNamee and Austin Stowell and was written by Simon Beaufoy.

Battle of the Sexes begins with Billie Jean King, played by Emma Stone, being crowned the Women’s Number One Tennis player of the year, 1972, winning three Grand Slam titles and a purse of $100,000. She was celebrated and even received a phone call from then President Richard Nixon congratulating her.

At this time Bobby Riggs, played by Steve Carell, who dominated the sport in the 1940’s, had retired from the pro circuit and was now employed by his father-in-law. His wife, Priscilla Wheelan, played by Elizabeth Shue, was well off and the two seemed to have an understanding, as Bobby’s vice, gambling, often got the better of him, and it, as he was a really good gambler, seem to fill a void.


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Another key player in the 1972 tennis circuit was Jack Kramer, played by Bill Pullman, a former tennis player he retained the Number 1 World Ranking and was the leading tennis promoter. In 1972, after Billie Jean King had won the largest purse in female history he had planned a tournament that paid women 88% less in prize money.

Th shock of the staggering difference cause BJK and Gladys Heldman, played by Sarah Silverman, publisher of World Tennis Magazine, to confront Kramer who explained in typical 1972 fashion, that the crowd shows up for the men and the women’s game is a byproduct.

The two decide to challenge that status quo and start their own tournament. Nine women and a single dollar later and the first pro. Soon thanks to the savvy Heldman, Virginia Slims, the cigarette line marketed to the liberated woman, unafraid the take risks, to challenge and play and win, came on board as sponsor. Soon the women were playing under the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Tour in the Virginia Slims Tennis Tournaments.

Billie Jean King and her husband, Larry, played by Austin Stowell, who served as her manager and agent. He rarely accompanied her on the circuit and was fully aware that if he got between her and the sport he would lose. What he didn’t expect was the liberation and freedom of the 1960’s would spill over and his once solid marriage could be shaken.

In preparation for her first photo shoot, the nine women were getting their hair and make-up done when BJK was talking with her beautician Marilyn, played by Andrea Riseborough, who would eventually become her lover.

The dedication needed to remain a champion is vividly presented with BJK walking out on old and new to regain her core. The newness of her lesbian relationship derails her match with Margaret Court, played by Jessica McNamee, and after that as Margaret becomes the top seeded player that she is the women he will play to prove that men are better. They play and she loses badly. So badly that one wonders if she didn’t play her game.

After beating Ms. Court, the only player left to challenge the 55 year old Riggs was BJK. And the second round brought a global audience of 50+ million, a prize purse triple to what Ms. Court received. And the right to call the shots on all aspects.

I really enjoyed Battle of the Sexes. For many it will bring back a season of uncertainty, not all was well in the early seventies, the Vietnam War was nearing an end, Nixon was under investigation and the nation was experiencing growing pains as women’s libbers and male chauvinist pigs as they were so colorfully labeled, were at odds over women’s abilities, women in the workplace, women’s wages and sexuality.

For others is represents a real advancement in Women’s Sports and yes, Battle of the Sexes is really about freedom and equality. Equality in women’s sports, equal work equal pay, don’t condemn me because I want man wages and of course the freedom to love the person one loves.


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Steve Carell turns in another excellent performance as the aging Bobby Riggs, the showman of the Men’s Tennis Circuit in the 1950’s. During the Tennis Match scenes he is impressive as he takes on a real resemblance to the actual man. Carell masters the role.

Emma Stone is impressive also. Her character has very real and compelling issues as she explores her sexuality, fights for equality, takes on the role of elevating Women’s Tennis, is conflicted over her feelings for both her husband and her female lover, has to hide her lifestyle, and train for the match of her life.

I saw compartmentalization, and I’ve heard that athletes or those who have excelled at sports on any level use this technique very well as they rise above the mental challenges by keeping each area in its place and not letting the edges of one touch the other.

Alan Cummings gives a notable performances as Ted Tinling, the team’s designer and dresser, also gay, he recognized the budding romance and lifestyle change even before BJK knew how her life would change.

The original nine women who changed the face of Women’s tennis: Billie Jean King, Rosemary Casals, Judy Tegart Dalton, Nancy Richey, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, and Kerry Melville Reid each are represented.

The audiences may see a bit more of Ms. King then they wish and as it is 44 years since this historic tennis match, the times have allowed for equality.

Famed ABC Newscaster the late Howard Cosell is featured as the Game’s Announcer in actual news footage.

The Battle of the Sexes wins game, set and match! It is well acted and reflective. At the private screening, members of the audience spontaneously applauded during the match. It is a very good film. 

The Battle of the Sexes opens in theaters everywhere September 22, 2017. See it!

 

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