PLOT- Based on the true story of tennis champions Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs ( Steve Carell), specifically the tension leading up to their famous 1973 match, dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes."
LIKE- I'm not a sports fan, but even though the match between King and Riggs took place four years before I was born, it is impossible to not have heard of it. It's that famous. However, I did not know the specifics of either King or Riggs lives, nor did I fully appreciate the historical significance of this event prior to watching The Battle of the Sexes.
Early in the film, we see King, who at the time was the reigning women's tennis champion and her manager, Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) learn that the United States Lawn Tennis Association was paying male players eight times the amount that they were playing female players, despite ticket sales to the women's matches nearly equally those of the mens. King and Heldman try to appeal to the association's promoter, Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), who will not budge. Rather than play for a lesser purse, King and Heldman rally other top female players to drop out of United States Lawn Tennis Association and join a women's tour that they are going to start with the backing of Virginia Slims cigarettes.
This new tour sets the stage for antagonism from leading men in the tennis field. Former tennis champion, Riggs, is now in his fifties, in a crumbling marriage, and addicted to gambling. Riggs loves being in the spotlight and if there is one thing he's good at besides tennis, it's putting on a good show. He thinks of a money making scheme in which he will challenge King to a match. I'd had been under the impression that Riggs was a huge chauvinist and jerk, however, this is not exactly how he is portrayed in the film. In The Battle of the Sexes, Riggs is a pitiful character. He seems to be playing the chauvinist, rather than being his true self, to drum up controversy and to make money on this tennis match. He is a larger than life character. It totally works. The tennis match between King and Riggs was one of the most watched sporting events of all time. Although King was initially unwilling to get involved with Riggs' scheme, by winning this match she definitely promoted equal rights for women on a grand scale.
In the film, King mentions how Riggs is not the real antagonist. The real antagonist and chauvinist is Kramer, who will never admit that women tennis players are as deserving of equal pay to men. Kramer is insidious in his efforts to keep female tennis champions at a lower level than the men and to this end, he has several other men to back him. King isn't battling Riggs, she is battling an institution, a deeply imbedded way of thinking.
Stone is fabulous as King, but Carell is the scene stealer. Carell is one of my favorite actors and as much as I love him in comedies, he really shines in dramatic roles. Playing Riggs, he has funny moments when Riggs is being a showman and doing outrageous stunts, but in the private moments, this is a very dark, depressed character.
DISLIKE- I'm on the fence about the other main component of the story; King's love life. During the time frame of The Battle of the Sexes, King is married to Larry (Austin Stowell), her loving and very supportive husband. While doing press for the Virginia Slims tour, she meets hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), with whom King has an affair. King is shown as being very conflicted; she feels distant from her husband and is attracted to this beautiful woman. Her husband realizes what is happening prior to the big match with Riggs and he is somewhat resigned to it. He continues to support King and doesn't fight the fact that Barnett is also in the picture.
Although I think Kings personal life was important to the story, it was given an unequal weight. There were so many artsy-scenes of King and Barnett in bed/falling in love. It shifted focus away from King's tennis match and the theme of equality for women. It also made me feel super sorry for Larry, who is basically gutted by what is happen, yet remains ever faithful. He's like a golden retriever. I felt sad that King lived in a time in which it was difficult for her to live her authentic life, but at the same time, the way Larry is portrayed it as impossible to not feel even more upset on his behalf. It's an all-around sad situation.
Luckily the film's afterward clarified a few things. It turns out that King amicably split from her husband and he went on to remarry and have children. King and her current partner are godmothers to his children. I thought this was a really beautiful outcome, although throughout the film, I felt concerned for Larry! What is not said in the afterward is that when her relationship with Barnett went south, Barnett tried to unsuccessfully sue her for support, which outed King. Learning that King is a lesbian sets up the fact that King is facing inequality from multiple fronts. However, this particular time frame deals with her fight for women's rights, which is why I felt mixed on the weight given to her love life. I think that the script would have been stronger, if it had focused more on the other female players. King's life is so rich, it seems like you could easily make a second movie about her career/life, post the Riggs tournament.
RECOMMEND- Yes. Battle of the Sexes is a compelling story and it's inspiring that female tennis players took a risky stand to fight for what was right.