On September 20, 1973, 90 million sports fans and an incredibly curious and invested audience tuned into a tennis match between 55 year-old Bobby Riggs and 29-year-old Billie Jean King. Both had won Wimbledon titles, US and French Open Championships. Bobby was a showman and a bit of a gambler who was looking for extra spice in his tennis career while Billie wanted to set things right for women in tennis.
In her own words, she recalls, “I won Wimbledon in 1968 and received 750 pounds. The men’s winner, Rod Laver, got 2000 pounds.” Even in the years after, with rising stars in women’s tennis, the ratio of the prize money was eight to one.
Beyond the sport, there’s this bigger and still relevant issue of women getting equal pay for equal work. While we’re still not there, Billie Jean King, her team and support system achieved something monumental that day.
It’s easy to see how directing couple Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (“Little Miss Sunshine”) fell in love with this story—it’s a sweet, triumphant point in sports and world history and the characters are colorful, driven and so full of heart (OK, at least most of them). The screenplay is by Simon Beaufoy who won the Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Last year’s Best Actress at the Oscars, Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King. She has gotten raves for this performance as well but I felt Steve Carell was so endearing as the funny, outrageous, restless, quirky, live out loud, one-of-a kind tennis legend Bobby Riggs. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got nominated for an Oscar for this role.
His performance had just the right kind of nuance that you can see all his “talk” about women belonging in the kitchen or not having what it takes to conquer the world of sport was more part of the show than anything else. Here, there seemed to be more playful competitiveness rather than serious antagonism between the two.
Billie and Bobbie were known to be very dear and held such a love for each other until Riggs’ dying day.
The story also has other interesting characters—Billie’s ex-husband Larry (Austin Stowell), a truly supportive man and feminist, who felt she deserved the equal pay; Gladys Helman (Sarah Silverman); publisher of World Tennis magazine who fought with and for the women tennis athletes; and designer Ted Tinling (Alan Cumming) who along with Billie, dreamed of a world where women could be seen as equals to men and men and women could love whoever they choose to love.
Also in the cast are Andrea Riseborough, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue and Fred Armisen.
Stone and Riseborough aren’t the only ones from “La La Land” in this film. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren is also on board and Stone is all praises for his treatment, “The film is incredibly ‘70s, but not the kind that we’ve seen depicted over and over again on screen—with those browns and avocado greens and mustards. It was great to be in this world of pinks and blues and reds that he creates with a beautiful documentary style.”
“Battle of the Sexes” is a winner and opens today on limited release in Ayala Cinemas.