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Battle of the Sexes (2017)

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The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Gladys Heldman
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Jack Kramer
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Cuthbert 'Ted' Tinling
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Priscilla Riggs
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Lornie Kuhle
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Rheo Blair
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Jane 'Peaches' Bartkowicz
Lauren Kline ...
Nancy Richey
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Valerie Ziegenfuss
Fidan Manashirova ...
Judy Tegart Dalton
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Storyline

In the wake of the sexual revolution and the rise of the women's movement, the 1973 tennis match between women's world champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-men's-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as the BATTLE OF THE SEXES and became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time, reaching 90 million viewers around the world. As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicked into high gear, off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. The fiercely private King was not only championing for equality, but also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, as her friendship with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) developed. And Riggs, one of the first self-made media-age celebrities, wrestled with his gambling demons, at the expense of his family and wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis court, sparking discussions in bedrooms ... Written by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

He made a bet. She made history.


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity | See all certifications »
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Details

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Release Date:

24 November 2017 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

La batalla de los sexos  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$515,450 (North America) (24 September 2017)
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Company Credits

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Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Emma Stone was initially cast as Billie Jean King, but scheduling issues forced her to pass on the role. Brie Larson was ultimately tapped to replace Stone. After a few months, Larson dropped out. After Stone's schedule was cleared, she was able to take back the role. See more »

Connections

Featured in CTV National News: Episode dated 7 September 2017 (2017) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Decent Flick but Nothing New
24 September 2017 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Nothing better represents the runaway id of the American public better than a big, unwieldy media circus. It'd be nice to think change can be made with frank and penetrating discussions. People stake entire careers on the idea that words and reason alone can carry the day. But if the recent controversy on the removal of Confederate statues is any indication – there simply is no substitution for raw, powerful symbolism.

The news media, for all its faults understands this. This is why discussions of Black Lives Matter ultimately descend into arguments about Colin Kaepernick. Policy debates on income distribution start and end with the flashpoint of Warren Buffet's secretary and the issue of religious freedom is always forced into the context of homophobic bakers and their wedding cakes. The media takes advantage of these symbols and we as the viewing public love to lap it up.

Thus it was with the infamous 1973 exhibition tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs known as the Battle of the Sexes. An out and vocal Women's Liberation and Title IX advocate, Billie Jean King was among the biggest symbols in the sport. She along with a cadre of women's players rebelled against the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) in the early seventies after they were offered an insulting twelve times less prize money than their male counterparts.

This is about where the film actually begins and counts down the moments until King (Stone) goes up against infamous tennis hustler and self-described chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs (Carell). When not hoofing it out on the court, the film splits the narrative between Riggs's troubled home life and King's sexual awakening during her first Virginia Slims Tour. It is during these calmer human moments that the film shines brightest, as much of the heavy lifting is provided by an incredible cast.

Emma Stone does wonders recreating the gritty, socially ambivalent King. Fresh off her Best Actress win for La La Land (2017), Stone once again portrays an easy-going warmth and vulnerability only this time unlined by a competitive feistiness. Scenes involving the underrated (and underutilized) Andrea Riseborough coalesce with a lovely chemistry that defies easy description. Meanwhile, in the other foxhole, Carell's performance pops with gregarious intensity. Not only is his Riggs a chauvinist and hustler but a compulsive gambler with a knack for headline grabbing hokum. "Any publicity is good publicity" is a cliché that should be written on his family crest, though that might incite the ire of his long suffering wife (Shue).

Despite all the "fun", I couldn't help but feel a sense of unease while watching Battle of the Sexes. Riggs's brand of oafish misogyny is given just as much credence and lovability as King's high-wire emotional balancing act. The very real archival footage of sports announcers and commentators legitimizing his worldview is scary enough but because we get the inside scoop of who is essentially our villain, everything we see and hear is surprisingly easy to swallow. Even King gives him a pass in a climactic scene where she pits herself against USLTA President Jack Kramer, played with unmoving incredulity by Bill Pullman. "Bobby's a clown but you…you can't stand that we want a little of what you got."

The film may have been better served if it was strictly from King's point of view. If that were the case, her budding relationship with hairdresser Marilyn (Riseborough) and deteriorating relationship with husband Larry (Stowell) could have been given the emotional honesty it deserved. What's more the film also lost out on the opportunity to comment on the ever growing, ever out-of-control media circus and our reaction as a culture to it. We now live in an age where late night comedians have the most cogent editorial viewpoints and our President is hinting policy changes like bumpers on a TV show. This is a conversation we should be having and I'm surprised and disappointed this movie didn't take a swing at it.

Once Battle of the Sexes builds to its final showdown, the film's shallow iconography starts to crump up like badly pasted wallpaper. It is at that moment that you realize that what matters most to these two people, tennis, is probably the most boring sport to watch other than maybe golf. It doesn't help that co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris limit their camera placement to the obligatory ESPN whole-court wide shot, and an even wider shot where people are watching the match on TV.

At a time when this kind of polemic misogyny is becoming more publicly commonplace, I'm surprised this movie was as big of a bad serve as it was. Then again if you're making an LGBTQ-oriented sports biopic with an award-winning cast and it somehow comes across as shallow, I gotta wonder if you're not just ticking marks on your Oscar-bait scorecard. Oh well, I guess the circus marches on.


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