Monday, 27 November 2017

The Battle Of The Sexes Film Review

A timely release for a film that challenges women to be the better players in the Battle of the Sexes. Ostensibly so men can once again prove how superior they are, and women should be back at home in the bedroom and kitchen. Directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, with Emma Stone and Steve Carell as Billie-Jean King and Bobby Riggs. They both looked like they had a ball making this.

In 1972 tennis player 29 year old Billie Jean King is at the top of her game, and winning The US Open. Women's tennis pulls in the same crowd for the finals as the men's. But the US Lawn Tennis Association wants to pay women an 8th of what they pay the men. Bill Pullman tells Billie Jean and Sarah Silverman's Gladys Heldman, that frankly the men are just more interesting to watch. So these two ladies decide to start their own Women's Tennis Association. Sponsored by Virginia Slims. Gladys suggests they play tennis and she'll do the smoking. Alan Cumming has great fun as the fashion designer who put colour into their bespoke tennis outfits, and becomes Billie-Jean's ally.

But when they come to sign up for the association, for a token dollar bill, the women are told if they sign up they're out of the US Lawn Tennis. A marker has been put down.

While having their hair done for the media, Billie meets a hairdresser named Marilyn, who gives her quite the most erotic hair cut I've ever seen. Gorgeous Andrea Riseborough caressing the strands with a snip here and there. I didn't know whether married Billie was aware that she could have feelings for a woman, but on the spur of the moment she gives Marilyn tickets to a tennis match.

Meanwhile retired US tennis player Bobby Riggs is working for his father-in-law, while gambling, and being bankrolled by his wife's family money. The long suffering Elisabeth Shue. He and his friends cannot believe that Billie-Jean King and the other women want equal pay on the tennis court. An idle remark that Bobby should challenge Billie Jean to a match kindles his interest, and he suggests to Billie-Jean, with her women's lib and hairy legs, she takes up the challenge. She responds with a polite No. She isn't going to join his circus. And she shaves her legs!

When Marilyn turns up to the match the attraction between her and Billie-Jean is instant, and the two go dancing. Such an innocent world. Also on the ladies circuit is Margaret Court, played by Jessica McNamee, who looks disapprovingly at Marilyn. She's a lesbian, the tour is full of them apparently, she tells her husband as she watches them both arrive in the morning.

Seen from today's relaxed reality it's so hard to imagine what life was like for a gay sportsperson relying on sponsorship. Billie-Jean's husband, played by Alpha male Austin Stowell, on meeting Marilyn, advises her of the situation.

Amazingly a woman player as good as Margaret Court cannot afford a nanny, and she and her husband take turns during the night to look after their baby. She accepts Bobby's challenge and the lure of $35k, after she beats Billie-Jean in a match that sees her become the No1 women's player.

I don't know why but Margaret was roundly beaten by the 55 year old Bobby. And at this point Billie-Jean accepts his challenge. On her terms. As an athlete Billie puts in the training, while Bobby worked the media. The arrogance that he could win the match with a handful of pills. Because of the press surrounding the film I did know the outcome of the match, and to be honest for Bobby to have won would have been the end of the women's game in those days.

A very fine and well acted film of events that now seem so shocking. The media presentations prior to the game were unbelievably sexist, and the event itself like a camp boxing match with the two teams.

But most astounding was when one of the women Rosie, played by Natalie Morales, was commentating on the match while the male commentator had his arm around her. As everyone says it was acceptable then. Interestingly tennis is one of the only sports that now has equal winnings for men and women, and I'm sure Billie-Jean King is rightly proud of what she started. The match itself was watched by more people than had ever watched live tennis, with 90 million tuning in around the world.

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