TV & Movies

In Battle of the Sexes, a Clown Gets Served by Competent Woman & It's Glorious

"I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match," said Billie Jean King after defeating Bobby Riggs in a nail-biting tennis event dubbed the Battle of the Sexes in 1973. Now we can see her triumph play out again on the big screen in Battle of the Sexes, with Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs

Battle of the Sexes review: In a still from the movie, Emma Stone arm wrestles with Steve Carell

(Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Twentieth Century Fox)

Hillary Rodham Clinton is on one of the latest covers of Time, part of its Time Firsts special project profiling women who are changing the world. Looking ahead in a brilliant baby blue pantsuit, Clinton’s image is beautiful but bittersweet—and of all people, it made me think of Emma Stone and tennis pro Billie Jean King.

Stone stars in Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s fast-paced and feverish Battle of the Sexes, where she plays a very convincing Billie Jean King opposite Steve Carell’s “I-put-the-show-in-chauvinism” Bobby Riggs. The film hits the Toronto International Film Festival circuit this week and is set for a wider release on September 22—the 44th anniversary weekend of the momentous Battle of the Sexes tennis event that saw King pitted against Riggs in a match she believed was a do-or-die moment for women’s rights.

Apparently Clinton wasn’t far from Emma Stone’s mind while she channeled her best Billie Jean, either.

“The parallels in this movie are pretty fascinating,” Stone tells Out“We began shooting in the spring of 2016, when there was still a lot of hope in the air, and it was very interesting to see this guy—this narcissistic, self-focused, constantly-stirring-the-pot kind of guy—against this incredible, qualified woman, and at the same time playing Billie Jean, with Steve playing Bobby Riggs.”

It’s impossible not to think of Clinton while you’re watching Stone embody a woman at the absolute top of her game take on a self-styled sexist pig who believed women belonged “in the bedroom and kitchen—and in that order.”

Because it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you were on when you watched the U.S. presidential election results get confirmed late on November 8. If you were a woman, it stung, especially if you let a part of yourself feel hopeful that the most qualified person to ever run for American’s highest office, who just happened to be a woman, could beat a clown.

And the reason you felt like Hillary had a fighting chance? All the Billie Jeans before her.

Battle of the Sexes review: Emma Stone as Billie Jean King holds a tennis racket in a movie still

(Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Twentieth Century Fox)

It’s more than likely that young Hillary, a rookie lawyer aged 26 and not yet a Clinton, watched Billie Jean shatter one of sport’s glass ceilings alongside her then boyfriend Bill. Just a month before the King-Riggs match, Hillary, fresh off working on the Watergate committee, had embarked on a road trip to be with Bill in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and it set into motion events that would change the course of her life. I like to think of Ms. Rodham, settling into her first month in Fayetteville, watching King and dreaming just a little bit bigger about what she too could achieve.

In a poignant video paired with her September cover shoot, Clinton says: “Too many women, and too many young women, labour under the belief that if they aren’t perfect, they aren’t good enough.” She discusses the importance of women role models. “Because, as the saying goes,” she says, “You can’t imagine doing something that you can’t even see.”

But we can imagine how seeing King do something that no other woman had ever done might have stuck with Clinton, the way it did for so many women at the time.

King later reflected on the immense pressure she felt to defeat Riggs. “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s [tennis] tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.”

Battle of the Sexes feels timely right now because it offers just enough escapism from the events unfolding around us right now. Watch it, and you’ll feel the kind of pure joy you likely felt when you saw Hidden Figures earlier this year. There’s something just so therapeutic about seeing strong, intelligent and passionate women exceeding against all odds.

Here, everything you need to know about Battle of the Sexes and why it needs to be on your must-watch list right now.

The Coles Notes catch-up:

Billie Jean King grew up in Long Beach, California, and smashed one tennis tournament after another. As she advanced in her career, she was frustrated by the disparity in prize money allocated for men and women—in some cases, bros on the court received up to eight times more. King was angry enough to take a stand and started a women’s tour of her own in 1971, which eventually secured a sponsor in Virginia Slims. Of all the championships she won, King’s most remembered for the match where she bested Bobby Riggs.

Battle of the Sexes gives us a heart-wrenching look, on and off the court, into what was going on in King’s mind at that time, the important people behind her and all the sweat and tears she poured into making herself great. Andrea Riseborough as King’s confidant, Marilyn Barnett, and Austin Stowell as King’s husband, Larry, particularly shine without upstaging Stone in the film—but it’s Alan Cumming as Ted Tinling, English tennis player turned fashion designer, who steals the show as he imparts wisdom onto Stone that will give you the chills.

Battle of the Sexes review: Emma Stone looks in the mirror as Alan Cumming looks on

(Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Twentieth Century Fox)

And while we don’t get many scenes with Stone and Carell together, the ones where we do are electric. Stone holds her own and lobs one-liners as decisive as her actual serves. Stone’s gritty and real and brutally honest role was stripped down of makeup and pretense—and it made me fall hard for her. Carell’s Michael from The Office shows up as Riggs the tennis court; it’s a gamble, but a great pick for the part. Carell rallies so seamlessly between being a sweet-talker and chauvinist that every time you find yourself feeling just a twinge of empathy for the guy, his pitch-perfect delivery of Riggs’s off-putting remarks manages to snap you right back to your senses.

TBH, this what we thought:

You’re going to legit cheer when Stone confronts some of the head honchos from Big Tennis and says: “It’s when we dare to want to a little bit more—that’s when you can’t stand us.”

Sure, tennis films don’t have the best rep for serving up something worthwhile to watch, but this one is an exception.

You’ll love it if: 

You like a big, triumphant, sappy happy ending—without any cheesy over-the-top romantic gestures ruining a woman’s big moment.

Pair it with: 

What goes well with smashing the patriarchy? Waffles?

Leslie Knope eats waffles and says "Yes!"

(Source: Giphy)

See it with: 

The strongest women you know.

How you’ll feel walking out of the theatre:

Kate McKinnon impersonates Billie Jean King on Saturday Night Live

(Source: Giphy)

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