'Battle of the Sexes' mostly scores
I had mixed emotions as I watched an advanced screening for "Battle of the Sexes," the feature film based on the epic 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King.
The acting of Steve Carell (Riggs), Emma Stone (King), Sarah Silverman (World Tennis magazine founder Gladys Heldman) and Elisabeth Shue (Riggs' wife, Priscilla) was first-rate. Local viewers also will enjoy "Portlandia" star Fred Armisen, who plays Riggs' medicine man in his quirky fashion.
The period setting and the capture of the characters in the circuslike atmosphere leading up to the match watched by more than 30,000 spectators at the Astrodome (and 90 million more on television) was right on.
Riggs was a hustler who loved the spotlight, and while he also actually may have been the sexist pig he made himself out to be — and may have resented the big money King was beginning to make on tour — the film portrayed his intentions accurately.
The film also captures the pressure on King to win — especially after Riggs had easily beaten Margaret Court only a few months earlier — to help the women's movement and advance the women's game toward pay equality with the men's side.
In the film, we hear much of Howard Cosell's actual commentary that night. And it was cool the way the film used a technical trick to make it appear Cosell put his arm around Natalie Morales, the actress who played tennis player Rosie Casals, who served as Cosell's analyst that night. It was a condescending move by the narcissistic Cosell that he employed while working with the real Casals before and during the match.
While I was interested in King's affair with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett — Billie Jean was married to Larry King (not the broadcaster) at the time — the film focused too heavily on it. And also took greater artistic license than it should have. King's involvement with Barnett didn't begin in 1970, when she helped form the fledgling Virginia Slims Women's Tour, but two years later.
After the match, won by King in straight sets, she and Riggs were both shown alone in their dressing rooms, contemplating what had just happened. I'll bet a dime to a dollar neither had a moment of privacy until they got to their hotel rooms (and maybe not even then) long afterward.
But mostly I enjoyed it, as did the audience at Cinema 21. Carell and Silverman — wise-cracking and chain-smoking her Virginia Slims — drew the most laughs. When the film was over, it was greeted by enthusiastic applause. It will probably do well at the box office.