MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 22 – 29, 2017: BATTLE OF THE SEXES

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motw logo 1-35Battle of the Sexes takes its name from the historic 1973 grudge match between tennis superstar Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and former champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). But the movie is about so much more than that singular game, no matter how big that game turned out to be. It’s about acknowledging and accepting who you are, standing up for what you believe, and using your voice to fight for the people who need you. Continue reading…

battle of the sexes poster Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s film follows both King and Riggs during the time leading up to their face-off, but the focus is more on King and her personal journey than anything else. King doesn’t hesitate when it comes to speaking up for herself and her fellow athletes’ worth on the tennis court — the glaring disparity in men’s vs. women’s tournament prize money leads her to strike out on her own and co-found the Women’s Tennis Association — but she’s far more tentative about embracing who she really is when she doesn’t have a racket in her hand.

Married to the kind, supportive Larry (Austin Stowell), King is reluctant to admit to anyone, including herself, that the person she really wants to be with is lovely free spirited Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). Stone and Riseborough play the women’s flirtatious courtship and tender love scenes beautifully; their intimacy is natural and convincing, as is the way Stone portrays King’s confusion over how she feels and her fear of anyone discovering the truth, lest her parents be shocked or her career be ruined.

Carell, meanwhile, is both charismatic and off-putting as the gleefully opportunistic, unapologetically chauvinistic Riggs. More than anything, you get the feeling that Riggs, bored by the predictability of domestic life, just wants to be excited about something again, to be in the spotlight one more time. It’s impossible not to sympathize at least a little, but it doesn’t make his comments about women belonging in the kitchen and bedroom any less sexist — even though you know it’s all part of the one-man show he’s always living.

The events depicted in Battle of the Sexes may have happened more than 40 years ago — and the film’s costumes and sets are impressively ’70s-accurate down to the last detail (remember airport TVs??) — but its themes are still maddeningly relevant. Women are still paid less than men and frequently dismissed as softer, less competitive, and more prone to emotional outbursts. And far too many people are still afraid to be who they want to be and love who they want to love. Battle of the Sexes gives Billie Jean King another shot at helping to turn that around. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW Comments:

Susan Wloszczyna: 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. Read full review.

Jeanne Wolf: Battle of the Sexes is not your traditional sports drama. You’re probably expecting to spend a lot of time watching the ball go back and forth across the net in this biopic based on the classic match watched by millions between the Number One Women’s tennis player Billie Jean King and former champ and unstoppable hustler Bobby Riggs. Read full review.

MaryAnn Johanson: Yes, things used to be even worse for women, especially women who dared to be publicly successful, especially women who dared to demand to be treated as the equals of men. Battle of the Sexes is startling in its straightforward depiction of the appalling condescension and casual abuse that was misogyny in the 1970s, yet also encouraging — and warmly amusing — in its uncompromising portrait of a woman who pushed back. And while it gets it totally right that feminism can and should be fun, it never forgets that not all battles can be fought at once, and that behind every victory is another campaign for dignity and respect waiting to be started. This is an essential cinematic history lesson, particularly for younger feminists — men as well as women — who may not be aware of the giants upon whose shoulders we who fight for equality stand today. Read full review.

Nell Minow: There is something very satisfying about seeing the real, human, vulnerable people behind the shrill media circus of the King/Riggs tennis match, and something encouraging about the reminder of how far we have come.

Jennifer Merin: Directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, and scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy delve into the sexual politics of the times, showing Billie Jean’s fiercely determined stance to beat the tennis establishment and win respect and equal pay for women players and her secret personal struggle to fully embrace her sexuality and her true love for Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). Emma Stone’s performance is inspirational.

Liz Whittemore: With a heavy hitting cast (pun intended), Battle of the Sexes brings us the story of tennis icon Billie Jean King’s fight for equality on and off the courts. In the male-dominated media and mindset of the 70’s, King accepts a challenge from self-proclaimed male chauvinist former champ Bobby Riggs. While standing in the limelight for women’s lib, King quietly goes on a journey of self-discovery, specifically her sexual identity. Riggs, on the other hand, showboats and gambles to the limits, bringing down fellow naysayers in the process. So many years later, King’s story is still familiar, as women continue to fight an uphill battle for equal rights at every turn. For me, the film’s pace dragged a bit and there was a certain energy missing in a few transitions, although there is no denying that Emma Stone’s performance is a winning one. In some moments, you’d swear the clips were of King herself. Riggs was right in Carell’s his wheelhouse with his natural comic timing and effortless over the top behavior. The Battle of the Sexes was an important moment in history and now is definitely the right time to share it on the big screen.

Leba Hertz: If you lived through that time, it reminds us of the fight women had and still have today. If you were too young, then this is not only a great history lesson but a great way to find out how far we have come. Great performances by Emma Stone, Steve Carell and Bill Pullman. A special shout out to the underrated Natalie Morales as Rosie Casals.

Esther Iverem: “Battle of the Sexes” may have a made-for-TV quality but it is an entertaining narrative about the 1970s emergence of women’s tennis along with the women’s liberation movement in the United States. The marquee battle between Billie Jean King and the ultimate “male chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs is a sports spectacle that reveals much about consumer and media culture but does not obscure under-exposed histories about the struggle for gender and LGBTQ equality.

Sheila Roberts: A tonally uneven, often predictable effort that’s surprising given the pedigree of filmmaking talent associated with it. While the performances are solid, this should have been a much more powerful retelling of tennis star Billy Jean King’s story and her 1973 face off with former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs in a winner-take-all exhibition match.

Cate Marquis: Emma Stone gives a strong, appealing performance in BATTLE OF THE SEXES, a well-meaning if uneven film about the 1973 tennis match between tennis great Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It is overstating it to call it a Billy Jean King biopic. Instead it focuses on a cultural pivot point when 29-year-old women’s tennis champion Billy Jean King (Stone) took part in a match against a clownish self-described male chauvinist named Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell). But despite his buffoon behavior and penchant for wearing outlandish costumes during matches, Bobby Riggs was no ordinary clown on the court but a former tennis champ and Hall of Famer. The comedy distracted his opponents on the court, concealing the fact that at 55, Riggs was still a formidable tennis player. Read full review

Pam Grady: The best thing about Battle of the Sexes is its two leads: Steve Carell was born to play former tennis pro Bobby Riggs, an antic, larger-than-life figure determined to hustle his way back to relevance with his 1973 challenge to the era’s dominant women’s player Billie Jean King. Recent Oscar winner Emma Stone sinks deeply into the skin of King, who approached the match with Riggs with determined focus even in the midst of a personal identity crisis. And given John McEnroe’s recent toxic observations about the women’s game, the timing is perfect for a cinematic crash course on how we’ve been down this road before. But the drama could have taken a few lessons from King in how to keep an eye on the prize. It is too often flaccid and the supporting characters are woefully underwritten. Only diehard tennis buffs will know who Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) and Lornie Kuhle (Eric Christian Olsen) are and what they represent without googling them after the movie. Marilyn Bennett (Andrea Riseborough), the woman King falls for, complicating both her personal and professional lives, is written as little more than a stereotypical California dream girl. Battle of the Sexes has its moments, particularly when it recreates Riggs’ many colorful publicity stunts or King’s actions in securing more rewards and respect for the women’s game. Alas, those moments are too few in a film that should have been mesmerizing.


Title: Battle of the Sexes

Director:: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Release Date: September 22, 2017

Running Time: 121 minutes

Language: English

Principal Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough. Bill Pullman, Sarah Silverman, Natalie Morales

Screenwriter: Simon Beaufoy

Production Company: Cloud Eight Films

Distribution Company: Fox Searchlight


Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Thelma Adams, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Esther Iverem, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf,

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Written by Betsy Bozdech, edited by Jennifer Merin

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Betsy Bozdech

Betsy Bozdech is the Executive Editor of Common Sense, for which she also reviews films. Her film reviews and commentaries also appear on and