– By Mark Glass –
Those of us old enough to remember the highly-publicized 1973 tennis matches between Bobby Riggs and the top two professional women will find this dramedy treatment of those lives and times highly entertaining…as were the events when they unfolded. Younger viewers may be surprised by how drastically our culture has changed in the subsequent decades, or how mesmerized and polarized the whole country (and beyond) became in response.
Nixon was in the White House. Vietnam was winding down, but still a sore spot. Feminism was beginning in the face of rabid resistance. Free agency for athletes hadn’t arrived, and none were making the Big Bucks yet to come n any sport. Female tennis pros were only earning a small fraction of the prize money men won in the same tournaments. Riggs (Steve Carell) had enjoyed a stellar career, but at 55 was reduced to low-level jobs and hustling tennis bets on the side. He was the P.T. Barnum of the sport, betting on himself with handicaps like handling dogs or working around chairs on his side of the court.
When Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and a group of other aggrieved, underpaid pros bucked the Old Boy network and formed their own tour group, Riggs saw a chance to return to the spotlight. He challenged King to a match that would prove even an over-the-hill guy could trounce the best of the women. King said no, but Australia’s Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee, also from Down Under) – her closest rival – accepted. Riggs won handily, forcing King to pick up the gauntlet for the sake of her gender. At stake was not only a relatively enormous payday for the televised showdown, but legitimacy for all female athletes, and equity for all women in all aspects of life. Not that it should have been so important. It just seemed as if it were.
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Rating: 3½ out of 5 stars
© Mark Glass – Multi-Media Features