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Not A Love Match: Battle Of The Sexes

Updated on October 14, 2017


The 1970s saw many clashes of ideals. One such clash occurred in the world of tennis. A group of women tennis pros, dissatisfied with the disproportionate pay rate between men and women, formed their own tennis association. The group from which they left responded by saying that men were a bigger draw than women, though the facts didn't support the claim. A retired pro wagered the men were right in Battle Of The Sexes. As Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) leads a defection aided by tennis magazine publisher Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a bored office worker who enjoys showing off his tennis skills among his friends, offers a challenge to the top ladies in the game. While King shows no interest in taking on the middle-aged International Hall Of Fame player, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) accepts Riggs's wager. Riggs shows he still has plenty of game as he easily defeats Court. That match leads to a change of mind on King's part.

Issues would arise in the time leading up to the match. Because of his tendency to gamble as he showed off his tennis skills, Bobby gets into trouble with his wife, Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue), whose father owns the company where Bobby feels useless. In fact, Priscilla throws him out of their home. In spite of admonishment from tennis administrator and announcer Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), King moved forward as the face of the Women's Tennis Association. in order to shake up the establishment even more, fashion designer Ted Tinling (Alan Cumming) was commissioned to design colorful tennis outfits for the ladies. While her marriage to Larry King (Austin Stowell) was more business than romance, Billie Jean became involved with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). People everywhere take a side in a contest that seems to pit male chauvinism against women's liberation.


Battle Of The Sexes is based upon the lives of King and Riggs as they prepared to meet at the Houston Astrodome. It's a good look at a time in recent history where attitudes about men and women were starting to change. Two confident players wanted to make a statement about their sport in very different ways. The middle-aged Riggs and Kramer voiced an older generation, reluctant to give the ladies their due. King and the WTA worked to show their play and popularity worthy of greater monetary attention. In fact, King stood to earn about as much money for playing Riggs as she had the entire previous year. In addition, both athletes had to face certain truths about themselves. Oscar winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) delivers a balanced look of the sporting events and the moments off the court. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris recreate the early seventies very nicely as they share this offbeat moment in sports history that drew some 90 million viewers to their TV sets.

Battle Of The Sexes marks Stone's first movie appearance since her Oscar winning turn in La La Land. Stone serves up an ace as King, a force on the court trying to move in new directions in her life. At times, she feels pressures that affect her game. Still, she faces the challenges to her play and her life with the determination to prevail. In spite of the marriage she has, Billie Jean tries to be discrete as she becomes involved with Marilyn. She lets her actions do the talking. Carell also has a winning turn as Riggs, a man who not only loves to play, but he's also an addict to a challenge. His tennis loving friends encourage him to try new stunts as he wins bets against competitors for outrageous sums. The win against Court only fuels his addictive nature and his big talk. Silverman has one of the movie's best moments as Heldman, who has a novel way of introducing her ladies to their sponsor. Pullman, Riseborough, and Stowell contribute fine moments in their limited screen time.


The actual Battle Of The Sexes took place on a Thursday night, though past my bedtime. My mother followed the match on TV, and I managed to stay awake through the contest, enjoying what I could hear. Battle Of The Sexes faithfully recalls a time when times were changing, but some men preferred to remain blind to the reality. Had King and Riggs been the same age, I have little doubt the match would have ended differently. These two adversaries, though, brought their ultra-competitive natures to the court. Even though just one could emerge victorious, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs served up a winner that helped to change perceptions about the game and the world that still struggles with the granting of equal rights.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Battle Of The Sexes 3.5 stars. The Lobber versus The Libber.

Battle Of The Sexes trailer


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