Full disclosure: My husband Art has a tiny cameo in Battle of the Sexes, opening this Friday Sept. 22. Well, at least his backside does. His brief moment on the silver screen sees him playing a photographer who shoots Bobby Riggs (played gleefully by Steve Carell) for a magazine spread in the media frenzy leading up to his famous tennis match back in 1973 with the women’s champ Billie Jean King (portrayed excellently by Emma Stone).
I’m not gonna lie—Art, a real life photographer, was a little excited when the directors, the cool husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks), asked him to come to the Fox lot and do his thing. He got to don some cheesy polyester '70s slacks and giant period sideburns while saying stuff like “Chin up. Great. That’s good.”
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Alas, those utterances—along with any shots of his face—are somewhere on a cutting room floor. The only thing that made it to the screen was a second or so of him from behind as he hunches over his tripod, photographing Riggs lounging nude on a couch. Ah well. I guess Art will have to stick to his day job.
But honestly, that was my only disappointment with the film. Battle of the Sexes is an entertaining, fun, sometimes touching, and sometimes enlightening look at the world of tennis, the struggles of sexual identity, and the sexism of the time. It’s also got some great period music—Tommy James and The Shondells's “Crimson and Clover,” Elton John’s “Love Lies Bleeding,” and George Harrison’s “What is Life” to name a few.
The film tells the story of what happens when former Wimbledon champ Riggs, at age 55, challenges women’s tennis queen Billie Jean King, then 29, to an exhibition match—to “prove” that men are the superior sex.
“I have a great idea,” he says to her in the movie during a late night payphone call. “Male chauvinist pig versus hairy legged feminist! You’re still a feminist, right?"
“I’m a tennis player who happens to be a woman," she replies dryly. "And by the way, I shave my legs.”
Eventually, though, Riggs convinces King to play (though the $100,000 prize money probably helps). A media circus ensues, which is exactly what Riggs wants—mega-attention, along with a potential cash infusion to support a bad gambling habit. The spectacle includes King being carried onto the court in a feathered “throne" by scantily clad men and Riggs presenting her with a giant sucker from his sponsor, Sugar Daddy. King pays him back with a squealing (chauvinist?) pig.
The crowd laps it up. And so did 50 million TV viewers when it happened in real life. And as history can attest, King made Riggs sweat, winning (6-4, 6-3, 6-3) and bringing newfound attention to women’s tennis.
But the drama in this film isn’t all on the court. Interwoven into this sports saga are a couple of intriguing subplots. There’s the rocky marriage of Riggs and his well-heeled wife Patricia (played by a knock-out Elizabeth Shue giving off major Sharon Tate vibes), but the more prominent side story is how the then-married King has a secret love affair with her female hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (portrayed oh-so-sensuously by Andrea Riseborough).
Take a closer look at some of the performances I loved in this film.