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“battle of the sexes” movie review

Battle of the Sexes

I remember rooting for Billie Jean King to beat that male chauvinist pig, Bobby Riggs, during their 1973 exhibition match yet I found myself feeling the urgency of her winning even more strongly watching Battle of the Sexes, the fictionalized movie about the two tennis legends.

I was 14 during the original must-watch-TV match and, although I was a devout feminist who believed wholeheartedly in women’s lib, I don’t think I had any clue at the time of just how brave and important King’s efforts really were.

Watching her fight the system in Battle of the Sexes was eye-opening and surprisingly emotional, thanks to a powerful performance by Emma Stone.

I cringed as she — at 29, the most successful woman in sports — was called “little lady” and crowned Queen for a Day. Although she good-naturedly went along with it, knowing she had to choose her battles, she also fought hard for women tennis players to get paid equally to the men.

When she approached Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) on that subject, saying the women were selling just as many tickets as the men, he told her they weren’t in the same league and that “it’s just biology.” I wanted to smack the smirk off his misogynistic face. Disgusted, King started the Women’s Tennis Association, resulting in Kramer kicking her and the players who went along with her, out of the USLTA.

It’s so inspiring to watch the women get their big sponsor, Virginia Slims, thanks to Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), founder of World Tennis Magazine and all-around mother hen to the women on tour. It’s a bit jarring watching her encourage them to smoke and support their sponsor but, hey, you’ve come a long way, baby.

I don’t need to tell you the whole story but what makes Battle of the Sexes so important and so sadly relevant is that the tennis is actually the least of it. The biggest battles King and Riggs (Steve Carell) face are personal. They take place off the court and have little to do with each other.

Riggs is a washed-up clown at 55, battling a gambling addiction and a crumbling marriage. Carell does a nice job with the role but because Riggs was already a caricature at that time, it’s hard to feel too deeply for him.

Battle of the Sexes is King’s story, and the battles she faced must have felt insurmountable to her. In many ways, they still feel that way.

Battle of the Sexes

King finds herself falling in love with hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), a relationship that is portrayed so beautifully but is so ridden with guilt and shame not just because King was married to a man at the time but because this was the 1970s.

“Someday we will be free to be who we are and to love who we love,” the similarly-closeted team uniform designer (Alan Cummings) assures her. “Times change. You should know — you just changed them.”

But, obviously, they have not changed enough. Four decades later, everything King fought so hard for — Title IX, women’s equality, LGBTQ rights — is being threatened. And, in a scene whose timely significance the filmmakers never could have predicted, “Rocket Man” plays while King is driving in her car. It brings us right into the present day, fighting an administration that’s made up of arrogant, entitled Jack Kramer clones.

Battle of the Sexes is a reminder that we can beat them.


  1. How interesting how women’s rights and LGBTQ rights have always fought the same battle, still so much to do, but so glad times have changed!

  2. This movie is so timely and yes, unfortunately still relevant. I remember this story like it was yesterday. Even the Virginia Slims part – always thought that was ironic.

    King was always/still is a class act. At 14 I couldn’t stand watching Riggs with his big mouth and arrogance (really?)

    Thanks for the review. Looking forward to seeing this movie.

  3. I saw an amazing docu on this event and remember it clearly from my own youth.

  4. i cannot wait to see this movie. i have always loved the story and admired billy jean king’s role in womens history — and sports history.

  5. I haven’t seen the movie yet but intend to and am looking forward to it. But it saddens me beyond words that 40 years later women are still fighting many of the same battles and that our progress could so easily slip away if we aren’t diligent.

  6. I’m a fan of a few of these actors, esp Steve Carell… even though he plays a character I will most likely despise! This has been a battle for many years and still comes about here and there in todays life.
    I remember being a tomboy and being really good at sports and I’d play on all boy teams and they would put me down and try and hurt me because I was a girl that could play better than them. At least it’s better than a few decades ago now that my daughter is playing.

  7. This movie looks great! I love Steve Carell and Emma Stone, they are great actors and I have loved everything both of them have been in. I have been wanting to see this!

  8. I can’t wait to see this. Emma seems so perfectly Billie Jean. And I have no doubt Carell can play a pompous jerk (but I love him!). Thanks for the review. Looking forward to this.

  9. I love every actor in this movie. I have never heard of this story and I am really excited to see it!

  10. Love all these actors I need to watch this. Never heard of the story but think I will love it

  11. I remember reading about this matchup much later in life. I was pretty young when it first happened so it wouldn’t have meant anything to me at the time. I know that Riggs was a washed out joke, but I heard later he made friends with Billy Jean King.

  12. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    I have a vivid memory of being so elated at the outcome that I cut the headline out of the newspaper the next day and scotch taped it to the wall in my dorm room. I can’t get over how much Emma Stone resembles BJK in this movie!

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