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Cinema Cindy Reviews: Battle Of The Sexes

on November 9, 2017 - 6:14am
Los Alamos

“Battle of the Sexes” was released at the end of September, but only recently came to our local theater, thus this late review… The film tells the story of the public battle for equal pay and recognition for female athletes, championed by tennis great Billie Jean King, and culminating in what was deemed “the Battle of the Sexes”, the September 1973 tennis match between the 29 year old women’s tennis great King and the 55-year-old former men’s champ, Bobby Riggs.

Significant steps along the way are covered in the film, but not in much detail. Historically, in 1970, King and eight other female tennis players agreed as a group to participate in a new Virginia Slims tennis tournament series. In 1971, through that series, Billie Jean King became the first female athlete to cross the six-figure mark in season earnings. In 1973, King founded the Women’s Tennis Association, which united women’s professional tennis players in one tour. In September of that year, the historic tennis game, which pitted a male player against a female player, was played in the Houston Astrodome and watched on TV by 90 million viewers.

Building up to that epic game, Battle of the Sexes explores the personal lives of Billie Jean King and her challenger, Bobby Riggs. While on tour, the married Billie Jean King has her first sexual experience with a woman and begins to question her sexuality, ultimately distracting her from her game. Riggs, meanwhile, is going through counseling and Gambler’s Anonymous to deal with his addiction to gaming, which has caused serious instability in his marriage.

Though it was the hustler and former men’s tennis champ, Riggs, who came up with the publicity stunt of the Battle of the Sexes tennis match, both he and King faced public and private pressures to win the epic contest. In those days, a lot of things were said and done to discourage women in their quest for equal treatment in professional athletics. Riggs publically embodied the “Male Chauvinist Pig” attitude and played it, over the top, to increase ticket sales and publicity. While much of his presentation created a circus-like atmosphere, the stakes were high for both sides of the gender-equality issue… they still are. Two years after King beat Riggs, Title IX passed Congress, providing more funding for female athletics in schools.

Steve Carrell does a great job playing the hustler Bobby Riggs. Emma Stone makes Billie Jean King a sympathetic character. Bill Pullman’s sexist tennis promoter, Jack Kramer, is believably smarmy. And the other characters are well cast, too.

Battle of the Sexes is “Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity”. The subject matter will not be of interest to children and the same-sex love scenes in the film may be uncomfortable for some viewers, most especially for younger youth. That aspect may get in the way of the historical value of the film for some people. But if you are up for the challenge, spending two hours to watch it may be worth your while.