Coming to Blu-ray, DVD and digital from directors Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is the “Battle of the Sexes.”
This film tells the story of two tennis players in 1973 – Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) who is frustrated by the treatment in the pay of women players and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) who is frustrated by life!
When King discovers that women players are still being overlooked when it comes to the tournament winnings, she confronts Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman). Kramer tells her that people want to pay to see men play more than they do women which enrages King to the point of a mutiny.
Deciding to break away, she recruits other women players to start their own tournaments and find companies willing to make the winnings worthwhile. That means more time away from home as husband Larry (Austin Stowell) cheers on her career. Riggs is watching all of this with interest much to the irritation of his wife Pricilla (Elisabeth Shue) who wants him to forget the court life.
Stopping before a tournament in San Diego, King meets Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) and finds herself drawn to her. Dealing with her feelings of betraying her marriage and who she truly is, comes with a price for King. Someone who notices is teammate Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) who predicts doom.
Riggs decides he wants back into the tennis life and comes up with the idea to take on the top women’s tennis player in a battle for court superiority. Thinking it is King he will be playing, it quickly becomes clear that Court is woman he will play. The media turns the match into a frenzy that hits women players the hardest at its end.
Not to take it, King agrees to play Riggs next and another frenzy begins both on and off the court. Riggs marital life has hit an all time low and King’s husband realizes that their life together is fracturing.
Neither one of them is going to let anything stop what is to come for game, set and match!
Stone as King is actually quite stunning in this role. She totally made me forget that she wasn’t King and I don’t mean just in the haircut and glasses. During this era it was clear that the majority believed a woman’s place was in the kitchen (a saying used many times by Riggs) and Stone plays this duality with strength and grace.
Carell as Riggs is just crazy with his ability to rev up a crowd. We are use to seeing Carell in roles that are quiet, contemplative or hilarious but never as a man who couldn’t stop himself from grabbing attention any way he could. He also gives an uncanny performance that brings Riggs front and center but also reminds us of how far we’ve come from such a display.
Riseborough as Marilyn clearly lives her life as openly as one could in the early 70’s and wants King to do the same. When she meets Larry in the hallway scene I can honestly say my jaw dropped not knowing what was to happen next. Shue as Pricilla thought she had tamed her wild tennis player/gambler/womanizer but clearly the caged animal escaped. It was good to see Shue in the film.
Other cast include Wallace Langham as Henry, Ashley Weinhold as Kristy Pigeon, Mickey Summer as Valerie Ziegenfuss, Fidan Manashirova as Judy Tegart Dalton, Martha MacIsaac as Peaches, Natalie Morales as Rosie Casals, Sarah Silverman as Gladys Heldman and Alan Cumming as Ted Tinling.
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“Battle of the Sexes” brings fantastic performances by Stone and Carell who carry this film from beginning to end. Yes this is about a tennis match watched around the world but more importantly it is a closer look at the lives of these two amazing tennis players.
King’s life began to change in so many different ways because she decided to stand up for herself. Knowing that her work & sport was not being valued, I wonder if she knew that it would also change her personal life as well. What an time to be living a double life and Stone’s performance gave us that look.
Riggs was just a man wanting to find a place for himself when the world his wife created for him just didn’t fit. Taking the chance of putting himself as the loud-mouthed bad guy in the early ’70s, it worked and allowed him to find his own life. Carell brought all of that out and showed us the insecurities as well.
This is a story that needed to be told and directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton dared to take it on. A story that delves into the lives of sports figures could be touch and go but the two directors gave it humor, tension and a peek at the world in the 1970’s and not just in sports.
In the end – he made a bet and she made history!