Battle of the Sexes (****) gives a vital slice of history

Battle of the Sexes – 2017

Directors Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Screenplay Simon Beaufoy
Starring Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Jessica McNamee, Austin Stowell

“I’m not saying women are better. I’ve never said that. I am saying we deserve some respect.”

I am son of a mother, brother to three sisters, married to one woman, father to two girls. Being the youngest in my family, I looked up to everyone and it was natural to see my sisters as capable. I had plenty of examples of women to look up to, and I still do. My father was a good example for me. He never hesitated to do anything there was to do around the house. To him, there was no “women’s work.”

The first thing I remember about the world of tennis is seeing the story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. That she beat him was a given as it had already happened. If he was a bit older, and seemed as close to a clown as a tennis player, the whole event evoked happiness whenever I saw or heard about it.

The event is one of the touchstone in an important time for human relations. Women had achieved the right to vote over half a century earlier. Voting is one aspect of many. We are still trying to reconcile the differences even today. Still, we are living in the best country at the best time in our history, and Battle of the Sexes goes some way to showing us why.

It’s 1973 and King (Stone) is near the top of her game. She is in the process of starting her a woman’s league due to an escalating feud with Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) over equal pay. Kramer says this is due to the difference in ticket sales. Billie Jean points out that there is not a 8 to 1 difference in ticket sales.

Riggs (Carrell) is trying to overcome an addiction to gambling in efforts to save his marriage to Priscilla (the still most beautiful Shue). He can’t help it, though. One late night he makes a call to King to compete in a showdown.

King, distracted by a burgeoning same sex affair with her hairdresser, Marylin (Riseborough), initially turns him down. Seeing her primary competitor for #1 ranking Margaret Court (McNamee) take him on and lose tips the scales for King, and she decides to take on destiny.

Dayton and Faris’ take on Beaufoy’s gentle story is filled with good people making crucial decisions. In fat, the only character that comes close to being abrasive are Pullman’s Kramer and Silverman’s Heldman. The rest seem to understand that while the situation is verging on historic, it is also kind of an enjoyable lark.

One person taking it as seriously as Billie Jean is her husband, Larry (Stowell). His encouragement goes beyond carrying her bags. His understanding goes beyond simple love.

Carrell is outstanding in a role he is especially well suited to play. He nails the complex character of a man who doesn’t take life seriously enough, it would appear. He is shown as someone perfectly suited to move relations between the sexes into a new paradigm.

Stone is excellent in portraying the complex nature of King at a crossroads. She is ingrained with an innate sense of fairness. We can see how well she functions with her husband, even as events conspire against the success of their marriage. One can tell they have a true feeling of companionship.

Riseborough, as good as she is, has minimal impact on the story. This may be due to the fact that she really doesn’t play a huge part, beyond hairdresser / lover. In the end, she’s one of the many facets that goes into making King more complex. She has to wait in the wings.

The story hits many of the points that will give the viewer a sense of the historical events surrounding the big Astrodome showdown. Dayton and Faris’ are less heavy handed than most might be tempted to make the story. The end result feels bright and full of hope, like the decade in which Riggs and King made history.

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