Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

When I was in high school I played tennis on the team. I loved the game of getting the ball in the right place at the right time.

My racket was a Chrissy Evert racket. I still have it along with another racket I used in high school. For years I followed the Grand Slams. I remember when Venus Williams came on the scene, I remember when Martina Navratilova retired. But I also remember when Billy Jean King was playing.

She was great, a tough player. It was magic.

Billy Jean had that something that made you watch her.

battle of the sexesFor that reason I was very excited to see the movie Battle of the Sexes. The movie is about more than her historic tennis match against Bobby Riggs. But it is also a snapshot of that time period when Women’s tennis started to get recognized as a force all its own.

Now that all seems to be so far away, that women were payed paltry sums compared to the male players despite the fact that they sold just as many tickets. Serena Williams makes the money she does thanks to Billy Jean who stuck her neck out for other women players.

In this movie, we see the start of the Virginia Slims tournaments. Laugh all you want at the athletes smoking cigarettes but that is how those players got paid.

As I watched this movie and heard Billy Jean/Emma Stone talk about what drives her to be the best, what drives her to want to make changes, I couldn’t help but remember how hard my teammates played. There were good players who made jokes about washing the uniform every night because it would get dusty. I saw my former teammates in these women.

The movie is about how the Battle of the Sexes came to happen. That Riggs, a compulsive gambler, tried to get King to play him but she refused. He eventually got Australian champ Margaret Court to play him. Court’s loss to Riggs spurred King to agreed to play. They set a time, a place, and even bickered about who would do the announcing.

King began to focus her training on how to beat Riggs while Riggs seemed to focus on being the biggest show on earth. He took her for granted because he beat Court and Court beat King.

Battles of the sexes 2Those who remember history, know who will win in the end. What I liked about the movie was the way it tried to humanize both characters, showing Riggs as a goofy dad and King as a woman exploring her sexuality. There are risks and dangers in this action, and we see that King considers all sides. Steve Carell and Emma Stone bring a lot of heart to each of their characters.

They never shy away from the circus created by Riggs or why that part of his personality was both his charm and failing. Nor does the movie shy away from King’s relationship with her hair dresser or why its discovery could lead to her downfall. Or how tennis is everything to her.

This is not a movie for everyone, especially in the parts that deal with grown-up relationships of both players. I suspect the younger crowd will find it boring. Others might be scandalized by part of this story. The thing about a DVD or streaming service is you can skip over the parts you don’t agree with or don’t like and get to the best part – the tennis.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.