"Battle of the Sexes" is a one-hit knockout

Friday, 22 Sep, 2017

Played by Emma Stone, King risks her career to band together with other women's tennis players to form the Virginia Slims circuit, only to be forced into combat with Riggs, played by Steve Carell as a hustler who insults women in public - not because he hates them, but because it's his shtick.

And Battle of the Sexes shows us just how much times have changed, despite all.

The film secured tax credit support of around $3.4m to film in Los Angeles, according to figures from the California Film Commission. "I served like 20 serves and none of them went in", Carell says, laughing.

Battle of the Sexes is in theaters now. When the two wind up in bed, King points out the painful truth: Being publicly outed as gay could demolish her livelihood, as well as crush her devoted husband Larry (Austin Stowell).

Jonathan Dayton: Billie Jean is such an important American hero, global hero. Claiming the female sex to be vastly inferior, Riggs sets the publicity machine in motion by declaring that he could defeat any female player, no matter her ranking. The male-superiority comments come fast and furious, but the most shocking clip is then up-and-coming tennis player Chris Evert saying she thinks Riggs is going to beat King.

The tennis center in Long Beach is named in King's honor and in 2008 the site of the U.S. Open was named the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. As the handsome Marilyn touches Billie Jean, puts her face next to hers, and lavishes her with care, we hold on a remarkably tight close-up of Billie Jean working her way through a full-throttle crush. She plays King with the flawless blend of the brooding she had in "Birdman" (toned down from being way over-the-top in that movie), and the vulnerability that earned her an Oscar for "La La Land", to show the conflict and pressure King faces at this time in her life both personally and professionally.

Riggs is juxtaposed with tennis promoter and former tennis star Jack Kramer, who uses semi-rational arguments to justify paying female tennis players one tenth of what their male counterparts make (the men are the main draw, he tells King).

King did get a pre-match haircut from her hairdresser girlfriend Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). The film is called "Battle Of The Sexes". But given the stigma associated with a same-sex relationship, along with the infidelity factory, Billie Jean is forced to keep her feelings private, which takes its toll on her game as well as her personal life.

STONE: (As Billie Jean King) Oh.

"You can imagine how much I personally looked up to Billie Jean and those (early stars)".

Miss Shue, who describes herself as a "tennis fanatic", said she was also drawn to the opportunity to work with talented actors like Mr. Carell. And with a faithful but subdued representation of King, Stone never lets her performance stand in the way of the film's message. She became the first person to win three NHRA Top Fuel championships (1977, '80, '82).

"He's always really amusing, but he's not somebody who "needs" to make you laugh", she said, describing Mr. Carell as "ego-less". "She's like the most warm and welcoming presence, and just such a spitfire that it was impossible [to say no]". She recounted watching with her parents in Baltimore, "being so nervous, because to me it meant everything to think that women would get this positive publicity".

"You start to realize that every generation has to start over - fighting for equality".

GREENE: Those were directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton.