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A good film if slightly out of balance
By M. Oleson TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 25, 2017
Theater review. While this story was already told (“When Billie Beat Bobby”) in a 2001 TV movie, this is the first time splashed on the big screen with a top cast from top to bottom. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s film is centered on equal pay for women, specifically professional tennis. In 1972, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) was ranked 1 or 2 in women’s tennis.
While women drew as well as men in the various tournaments on the circuit, their pay was substantially less. King confronted tour director and former tennis champion Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) and insisted that the women be paid more or they would leave the tour. He refused and King and 9 others formed their own tour (WTA) under the sponsorship of Virginia Slims cigarettes.
In a separate story line, former top ranked men’s player, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is playing on the men’s senior circuit and is an addictive gambler. Riggs, the consummate hustler, challenges King to a tennis match, promising $30 thousand to the winner. She initially refuses, then loses a match to Australian Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) which makes Court the number 1 player. Court accepts the challenge and quickly loses to Riggs, setting up the big match between Riggs and King, who now feels she must accept the challenge.
The story by Simon Beaufoy spends a significant amount of time on Riggs and his relationship with a very understanding wife played with a quiet dignity by Elisabeth Shue. It would seem the filmmakers want him to be a bit more sympathetic than the reputation he had at the time and certainly after his embarrassing defeat. After all the trailers and various interviews with King and Stone, I was expecting most of the film to focus on the match and the events leading up to it. There is a prominent subtext to those events however that are given significant screen time.