I can’t claim to know anything about the the real events that this movie is portraying, but based on my dollar tree-worth of research, Billie Jean King, whose husband is famed talk-show host Larry King, is considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time. I’m guessing it’s no accident that she’s not considered one of the greatest “female” tennis players of all time, a testament to her talent, no doubt. Bobby Riggs was also a heavy-weight for his time and the two essentially get into a tennis match. Riggs taunts King into it, he was in his fifties, and she was almost thirty. Summed up, she won, but even that victory had its controversies, citing that it was King’s age that won the match.
As for the movie itself, yes, I’m looking forward to this one the most this week. I’m always down for a good feminist flick and who doesn’t love an ass-kicking woman humbling a sexist jack-off?
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Emma Stone (LA LA LAND , THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN , SUPERBAD , and the upcoming CRUELLA ), and Steve Carell (DESPICABLE ME 3 , DATE NIGHT , BRUCE ALMIGHTY , and the upcoming MINECRAFT: THE MOVIE ). In support, we have Bill Pullman (INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE , SCARY MOVIE 4 , CASPER , and the upcoming THE EQUALIZER 2 ), Elisabeth Shue (HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET , PIRANHA 3D , THE KARATE KID , and the upcoming DEATH WISH ), Sarah Silverman (THE BOOK OF HENRY , THE MUPPETS , THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY , and the upcoming RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 ), Natalie Morales (TV shows TROPHY WIFE [2013 – 2014] and PARKS AND REC [2009 – 2015]), and Alan Cummings (STRANGE MAGIC , X2: X-MEN UNITED , and GOLDENEYE ).
Now for the crew. Co-directing, we have Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, both known for LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) and a bunch of music videos. Penning the screenplay is Simon Beaufoy, known for EVEREST (2015), THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013), and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008). Composing the score is Nicholas Britell, known for MOONLIGHT (2016), A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (2016), FREE STATE OF JONES (2016), and the upcoming OCEAN’S EIGHT (2018). Finally, the cinematographer is Linus Sandgren, known for LA LA LAND, THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014), PROMISED LAND (2013), and upcoming films FIRST MAN (2018) and THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS (2018).
Overall, I’m super stoked for this. I can’t wait.
This is my honest opinion of: BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Set in 1973. Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) has just been marked as the most successful women’s tennis player in the world. However, despite the great strides that women have been making in the world of sports, the higher ups believe that men are more marketable, despite evidence suggesting that women are just as popular a draw. Repulsed by the lack of equality, she founded the Women’s Tennis Association with some other great female tennis players. Billy Jean’s success eventually catches the eye of former great tennis player Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), who is eager to join the bandwagon in proving that men are superior to women in sports and challenges Billy Jean to a Battle of the Sexes match.
I like it. I’m really happy I got to see this.
Okay, I think if there’s anything that should be mentioned is that this isn’t exactly a sports biopic. At least, not all the way through. Much of the marketing strictly revolves around the match between Billy Jean and Bobby. And while that is a central and integral element to the story, people should be aware that it gets pretty personal for both people. We’re shown how Bobby is an addicted gambler and shows his failing marriage to his wife. We’re also shown Billie Jean’s homosexual awakening and her affair with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). In fact, a lot of time is devoted to that and how it affected her marriage to Larry King (Austin Stowell). In fact, a lot of time is dedicated to this, which might throw a few people off wondering what this has to do with the famous tennis match. Truth is, probably not much. But that’s not to say that it’s not effective. Stone’s performance as a sexually confused Billy Jean is very engaging and perfectly acted. On the one hand, she’s utterly guilty with how it would affect her marriage to Larry, and due to the 70s, would give a bad name to her new organization. On the other hand, it’s a new side of herself that she wants to explore and understand better and despite her cheating on Larry, we want her to be happy. She’s a feminist, a supportive friend, an iron-clad determination, and an all-around down to Earth gal. There’s real stakes in this story and no matter what Billy Jean does, she’s sacrificing something for what she believes is the greater good.
Even the stuff with Bobby isn’t short-changed. We see a man who is a loving husband and father, just trying to find his way in the world post-tennis greatness, but sadly fell into gambling and can’t give it up. He lies to his wife Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue) about it, which deteriorates their marriage understandably, but believes himself to be changed when he gets back into tennis. He loves his family dearly, and even when he’s playing up the Chauvinist Pig persona in the media, you never really get the sense that he’s one-hundred percent sincere about it. He’s doing it for the publicity and sponsorships, so it’s hard to see him as the villain. Easy to root against, he’s an egotistical jack-off, but not so easy to hate.
The performances are really what holds the movie up. This is arguably my favorite live-action performance by Silverman, who is so much fun watch here, Pullman’s a delicious asshole, Shue is incredibly sympathetic as Rigg’s wife, it all carries the film incredibly well.
I suppose if I had any real complaints, it’s the numerous creative liberties that were taken. But to be clear, I’m only going off of what I’ve read off of Wikipedia, which has a nasty habit of getting facts wrong, so if anything I mention is either false or not entirely true because you read some book that Billie Jean wrote, feel free to comment. I’ll post the link below.
First, the discrepancies. Billie Jean and Marilyn didn’t meet in 1973 as depicted in the film, they met in 1971. And unless “secretary” has an incredibly generalized definition, Marilyn wasn’t a hairdresser, she was Billie Jean’s personal secretary. During the match itself, Billie Jean was getting her ass handed to her early on, but the film depicted it as pretty even split.
Now, here’s my issues with these. While I can’t claim to know how long Billie Jean’s affair was with Marilyn, maybe it lasted a very brief amount of time, maybe it lasted from ’71 to ’73 throughout the Battle of the Sexes match, but it seems strange that they threw it in like that. If it didn’t last two years, then this relationship was used as an excuse to throw in more sympathy for the lesbian community. Not that this is bad, of course, Billie Jean was a champion of women’s rights, but the subject matter in itself does a fine job of that, promoting fair and equal pay for women in sports. Who’s not down for that? Adding a lesbian sideplot almost seems contrived. But then again, this is a biopic of Billie Jean’s life and her affair with Marilyn is a part of her life, and I think the writer was trying to make this movie a little more all-encompassing of her life. After all, a two year separation from the real events and the events depicted in the film really isn’t that big of a deal, especially since the film does place an importance on their relationship, which was a big deal in Billie Jean’s life.
But seriously, why is she a hairdresser and not a secretary? Isn’t that distinction kind of necessary? If Marilyn was Billy Jean’s secretary, the relationship might have felt a little more organic instead of a single encounter in a hair salon. Having her as a secretary, depending on how long they’d known each other before the affair and how long they’d known each other in general, would have shown that there was history and chemistry, which would create that sexual tension and just make more sense. A one off encounter in a hair salon just seems a little too “love at first sight” to me, and making it lesbians doesn’t make it okay. I have a problem with it even it when it involves heterosexual people. Gays don’t get a free pass in this.
Swinging back around to Billy Jean’s personal life, she did had an abortion in 1971. If gay rights are a hot button topic in 2017, despite the legal advances that have been made in recent years, then you sure as shit better believe that abortion is a hot button topic as well, which remains just as controversial today as it’s ever been. . Why wasn’t this something added to the movie? I have my theories. One, if they did add it, they risk both making the movie longer and more unfocused. Or two, they made a choice. Talk about a subject matter that lights fires under countless asses, or showcase Emma Stone making out with a chick. Well… sex does sell… and boom, we have this. I think a better, smarter writer could have used the abortion angle and made a really impactful film. But then again… maybe that’s why it wasn’t used because the writer wouldn’t have known what to say about it and or didn’t have anything smart to add, so it was decided to leave it out. Either way, it’s a shame.
And for the match itself, making it a little too even split at the beginning, wouldn’t it have been more dramatic to see Billy Jean losing while Bobby taunts her? And when she makes her comeback, that’s when Bobby takes his jacket off and stops his clowning around? I feel like it would have served the film much better, but what do I know?
To be fair, I can’t claim to know why these creative liberties were taken. Maybe Billie Jean herself requested certain elements not be included. But regardless, as much as I ragged on the liberties, it’s a solid film and I do recommend it. I don’t think it’s the must-see movie of the year or anything, but if you’re a fan of the cast, enjoy a good feminist movie, or even sports films, then this is worth your time.
My honest rating for BATTLE OF THE SEXES: 4/5