Marissa Hank ‘20
Battle of the Sexes, released last September, is a biographical, sports comedy-drama film set in the 1970’s. The plot is loosely based on the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The film stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, with Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Bill Pullman and Sarah Silverman in supporting roles.
The project and its two leads were announced in 2015. Principal photography on the film began in Los Angeles in 2016, with a budget of more than $25 million. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival last September.
Upon its release, the biographical comedy received positive reviews from critics, who praised the performances of Stone and Carell, with some calling it “the best performance of Stone's career.” Both Carell and Stone earned Golden Globe nominations for their work; however, neither won the award.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film maintains an approval rating of 86 percent based on 245 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, “Battle of the Sexes turns real-life events into a crowd-pleasing, well-acted dramedy that ably entertains while smartly serving up a volley of present-day parallels.”
In its opening weekend, the film grossed $515,450 from 21 theaters, an average of $24,545 per theater. As of Dec. 19, 2017, Battle of the Sexes grossed $12.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $5.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $17.8 million.
The film dramatizes the events leading up to the 1973 match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. While this is a tennis-centric movie, the film’s main focus is on their personal lives.
With the first mention of a tennis tournament, King and Gladys Heldman confront Jack Kramer, who has announced a tennis tournament where the top prize for women is one-eighth of the men’s prize, despite equal ticket sales. King and Heldman threaten to start their own tour; however, Kramer won't alter the terms meanwhile citing the supposed inferiority of women’s tennis.
Infuriated by Kramer’s misogyny, King and Heldman create their own tour, later being expelled from the Lawn Tennis Association. In its infancy the women's tour struggles until Heldman wins a lucrative sponsorship from Virginia Slims cigarettes. Just as their careers pick up from this sponsorship, scandal ensues as Billie Jean begins an affair with Marilyn Barnett, her hairdresser, threatening her marriage to Larry King.
Meanwhile, Riggs’s marriage to the wealthy Priscilla Wheelan is in distress because of his gambling addiction. Thrown out of his house when he can’t conceal a Rolls Royce he won in a tennis bet, he creates the idea to call a challenge match against the top woman player, boasting that even at age 55 he can beat any woman. At first King declines, but Margaret Court, who recently beat King in a match, accepts.
When Riggs easily defeats Court, King decides she has to accept his challenge in order to validate women’s sports. One of the most notable juxtapositions presented by the film is during King’s and Rigg’s training for the tournament; King trains intensely, while Riggs relaxes. The scene of the match evokes tension and anxiety as audience members are on edge hoping that King can make history by defeating Riggs.
Even though this movie depicts a historical match, with most audiences members knowing the victor, the adrenaline created from this intense sports match is not lost to history. For those who missed this movie in theaters, it’s not too late to watch the historical moment when the strength and determination of a woman athlete prevailed against the patriarchy.