6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
If you saw that sequence of numbers in the mid-1970’s, it would not be necessary to see any title, or heading or any identification.
Everybody knew it was the set scores by which Billie Jean King crushed Bobby Riggs in the famous 1973 tennis match.
At that time our society was becoming more aware of the unequal treatment of women in the workplace. The absence of that awareness was — and to some extent still is — in the inequality of financial compensation. Billie Jean King and her triumph in the Bobby Riggs match was an eye-opening event for the sports world.
Battle of the Sexes tells us the story of the match and the drama behind the match and the agony felt by Billie Jean and Bobby leading up to the match. Battle of the Sexes is an excellent portrayal of those events, with very fine performances by the two leads and the major supporting actors.
Bobby Riggs had been a champion tennis pro some 20 years earlier. He is portrayed, by Steve Carell, as a blowhard, clownish, hustling, gambling addict who takes part in minor tennis tournaments so people won’t forget him.
Billie Jean King is the outstanding woman tennis pro in the United States. She and a group of other women players are outraged about a large pro tour that is being planned which includes both men and women matches. The problem is that the men players will be earning four times the amount designated for the women.
When they confront the event officials, headed by former tennis great Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), he tells them that the men deserve the larger reward because they are stronger, more talented and they have families to support.
Billie Jean (Emma Stone) decides, with full support from the other women, to withdraw from the tour and from the organization. They are supported and managed by Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman). She is not a player, but she is a firm, dedicated, tough agent for the women. Gladys gets a sponsor to finance their efforts — the Virginia Slim cigarette company.
Bobby, sees an opportunity to steal a spotlight by challenging Billie Jean to a match. He will demonstrate how women can never match the level of talent that the best men possess.
Billie Jean rejects the challenge; she’s too busy with the group to cater to clownish shows. Bobby challenges Australian champion, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), who accepts. Bobby soundly defeats her and that is publicized as proof that women cannot match the men.
Billie Jean is moved to prove that theory is wrong and she agrees to meet Bobby in a match. During the training for the event, Billie Jean, who is married, is suddenly and strangely drawn to the sexual advances of a hairdresser, Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). She begins an affair with the young woman and faces her suppressed desires. The pressure of the match with Riggs is intensified by the need to keep her affair with Marilyn a secret.
This part of the film is especially interesting when Billie Jean’s husband arrives and quickly discovers the relationship. But he nobly supports Billie Jean to try to keep her on track for the big match. While Billie Jean is training hard, Bobby continues his wild ventures to capture people’s attention and as a way to promote the match.
Emma Stone and Steve Carell are absolutely outstanding in this film. I remember the event very well and it is close to watching the original real event all over again.
The match itself, showing major segments of the game, make it clear that he was no match for Billie Jean. And we do see the despair felt by Jack Kramer and other celebrities who never believed that such a result was possible.
Battle of the Sexes is at Harkins Sedona 6 Theater.