BATTLE OF THE SEXES Review — We've Come a Long Way, Baby

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battle of the sexes reviewBattle of the Sexes Review — Serving Up Controversy

by Staci Layne Wilson @StaciWilson

While there may have been no love lost between tennis stars Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in the early 1970s, the pugnacious pair were everywhere the public looked. The feminist was sponsored by Virginia Slims (“You’ve come a long way, baby,” which, by using the term ‘baby’ kind of negates the message), while the male chauvinist pig’s bill was picked up by Sugar Daddy suckers.

The two were constantly on mainstream television, newspapers and the radio. They captured the zeitgeist of the era in the wake of the women’s liberation movement and some mens’ vehement opposition to the perceived threat. Their eponymous tennis match became one of the most-watched televised sports events of all time, reaching 90 million viewers around the world.

The new movie Battle of the Sexes portrays this circus-like time in the past perfectly. Emma Stone plays 29-year-old closeted lesbian Billie Jean with awkward yet quiet strength, while Steve Carell gives 55-year-old traditional-values family man Bobby a softer, more comedic edge than the man actually had. (“I’m putting the show back in chauvinist!” is one of his funnier lines.)

As the rivalry between King and Riggs launched into high gear in the public eye, each was fighting more personal and complex battles. Billie was not only championing equality, but also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality. And Riggs, who was arguably one of the first self-made media-age celebrities, fought a gambling addiction at the expense of his wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue).

Battle of the Sexes writer Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and the directors – husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) – soften their stance on the whole hoopla and affair, making this film feel more like a really good, well-balanced TV movie than a jaw-dropping POV theatrical biopic. That’s OK but I do wish, with the excellent cast, the story had been taken deeper into darkness.

As it is, there’s a superficiality to the side-characters: Shue is the neglected wife, Sarah Silverman is the money-oriented manager, while Bill Pullman is the sexist boss. Alan Cumming plays a gay costume designer who likes to eavesdrop, then comes through with his rather stilted “inspiring speech” for equal rights at the end.

Having said that, I have to admit in my Battle of the Sexes review that I did enjoy the film. Stone and Carell are fantastic. While it’s Billie’s story more or less, Carell does a lot with a comparatively shallow character, giving us glimpses into what motivated Riggs to be such a spotlight-seeker. The film could have been a bit shorter, but it gives a good overview of the world and the people in it at the time without getting too heavy-handed and it is entertaining to boot.

Rated PG-13

2 Hours 1 Minute

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Battle of the Sexes Review — Serving Up Controversy

by Staci Layne Wilson 

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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on

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