Hollywood@Home: Battle of the Sexes

Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is hamming it up as the chauvinist-in-chief in “Battle of the Sexes.”

Great casting makes a great comedy, and some brilliant strokes are served with the sports dramedy, “Battle of the Sexes.” The legendary tennis match between Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is brought to the big screen with much pizzazz, thanks to the performances by the lead actors and a very capable supporting cast.

I was 17 years old when Bobby met Billie in Houston for perhaps the tennis world’s most famous exhibition match. Riggs was an outspoken chauvinist, who reveled in his maxi-macho gregariousness. King was the intelligent workhorse of women’s tennis, super-skilled and unwilling to play subordinate in a game dominated by men. You can’t imagine how this sports story dominated the headlines in 1973. It was the appointed time for the men’s tennis world to put up or shut up. Talk of King versus Riggs was everywhere, hyped to the max by Howard Cosell (one of my favorites) and other prominent news and sports commentators. College professors were talking about it to their classes. Everyone had a prediction about how it would all play out that night at the Astrodome.

I never met Riggs or King, so I don’t profess to any special knowledge of this moment in sports history. But, I do know that “Battle of the Sexes” taps into the social culture of the mid-seventies and it’s both amusing and enlightening entertainment. It’s based on true events, and I’d like to think this is the way it happened. At any rate, it’s a grand re-telling of the meeting and there are awards-worthy performances from its two lead actors. Carell is spot-on as Riggs, showing us what he might have been like both publicly and behind the scenes. Stone is also brilliant as King, giving her dignity, sensitivity and intelligence as she tackled the carnival-like atmosphere leading up to the showdown in Houston. They say 50-million people tuned in that night. I was one of them.

“Battle of the Sexes” is a crowd-pleasing film about a touchstone moment in the rise of the women’s movement. Men in the 1970’s cringed at the thought of women’s lib. Were they any different on the morning of September 21st? Perhaps not. Some would argue that Riggs didn’t adequately prepare for the match, and the film bears that out. But, King took a big step forward in the fight for equality. We take that step with her in “Battle of the Sexes,” and are simultaneously well-entertained. Grade: A-

Emma Stone gives a top-notch performance as Billie Jean King in “Battle of the Sexes.”