Those of us still upset over Hillary Clinton’s election loss as well as the ugly gender-based backlash unfairly aimed at her book tour will be glad to bask in the nostalgic glow of Battle of the Sexes. The year was 1973, a time when the feminist movement was in full swing and dumb bra-burning jokes and derisive comments about hairy-legged libbers were all the rage. And nothing quite symbolized the fight for equal rights quite so well than when 29-year-old Billie Jean King, the top female tennis player in the world, kicked the butt of 55-year-old self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs on primetime TV that was watched by 90 million viewers worldwide. Continue reading…
As a high-school senior at the time, the event and its outcome meant the world to me. But it feels even more necessary these days as a reminder that women are just as talented, strong , smart, capable and deserving of the same salary and benefits – if not more so – than any male counterparts. Not that directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the married team behind 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, and writer Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire) are preachy even if they underline the points they are making a little too obviously sometimes. But maybe blatant is a good thing right now.
Adding balance are the finely nuanced performances of both Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs. The reigning best-actress Oscar winner gets to be bespectacled and introspective as King. Married to nice-guy husband Larry and still in the closet, she conducts a clandestine affair with her hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough). But she doesn’t let her personal life get in the way of helping to start an all-female tour circuit whose hefty payouts are sponsored by Virginia Slims cigarettes, a brand targeted to lady smokers (a sign of less health-aware times). As for Carell’s Riggs, a retired top player who was a hustler and a show-boater addicted to gambling, the filmmakers present him as someone who simply assumes the guise of a sexist bozo mostly to grab the public’s attention and cash in on his stunts. As portrayed here, he didn’t underestimate King as much as he overestimated himself, especially after beating Aussie champ Margaret Court in a previous he vs. she televised faceoff.
If there is a villain, it is Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer, a tournament promoter who severely underpaid female winners with top prizes of only $1,500 compared to $12,000 for men. King, to her credit, ensures he gets his comeuppance before the credits roll. As openly gay tennis-wear designer Ted Tinling, Alan Cumming — a LBGT spokesperson if there ever was one — gets to assure King that, “Someday, we will be free to be who we are and love who we love.” Let’s hope those words continue to ring true given our less-than-tolerant political climate. But consider that Sloane Stephens, the just-crowned U.S. Open women’s champ, was handed $3.7 million check for her efforts. As those Virginia Slims ads used to say, you’ve come a long way, baby! – Susan Wloszczyna