Okay, so I saw this movie a couple of months ago, and it is probably out on disk and download by now, but I will write something about it anyway and give it a rating.
It’s actually a rather good film. I don’t usually enjoy movies about sports or gay themes, but this one was an exception. Particularly as it is based on a true story. Well, three stories really – it is a multi-strand movie.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, it is set in the early 1970s, that time of long hair, paisley shirts, the beginning of women’s lib, Billie Jean King, and Bobby Riggs.
King was an internationally-renowned US female tennis player at the top of her game. Riggs was a retired former international champion who, in 1973, famously declared that women tennis players were not up to scratch and that men could beat them any time. He backed this up by defeating Aussie international champion Margaret Court, then challenged King to a match. The King/Riggs game was televised internationally, had a huge viewing audience and a massive media build-up, and I personally remember it quite well. Oh, and King easily beat Riggs.
The King/Riggs match, billed as the “battle of the sexes”, is the climax of this movie, but is really only one element of the story. King was instrumental in a campaign by women tennis players to get greater recognition and higher prize-money, so as to put them on a more equal footing with the men players. Taking on the US male-dominated tennis establishment headed by Jack Kramer, King and others battled successfully to have the women’s tennis circuit better recognised and better paid. This part of the film is a really interesting account of the rise of the women’s movement in professional sports.
Meanwhile, Billie Jean’s personal life is in turmoil. Despite her respectable marriage to Larry (who seems, from the movie, to be a really decent bloke), Billie Jean is romantically attracted to her hairdresser, Marilyn, and embarks on a love affair with her. At that time, if news of Billie Jean’s lesbian affair leaked out, her career would be ruined. This personal side to Billie Jean’s story is a really fascinating part of the movie.
The performers are all excellent. Emma Stone is a very believable Billie Jean. Steve Carell is suitably disreputable as the sexist, gambling-addicted Riggs. The delectable Andrea Riseborough turns in an excellent performance as Billie Jean’s lover. Bill Pullman is just right as the polite, but ultimately sexist, ruthless and inflexible Jack Kramer.
It is hard to believe that the social attitudes shown in this movie occurred only 40 years ago. In view of the recent SSM debate and vote in Australia, this film has an extra resonance and relevance. It also shows us how much things have changed within our lifetimes.
I greatly enjoyed it. For me, it rates 4 ¼ stars out of five.