In this hugely enjoyable and entertaining film, Emma Stone surpasses her Oscar-winning performance in La La Land (2016) here as tennis star Billie Jean King, who not only revolutionized women’s tennis, and the sport itself, but struck a huge blow for women’s rights.
Women athletes in the seventies were paid a fraction what men made, and angered by this fact, number one ranked star Billie Jean King rallies the best players together and creates their own tournament, sponsored by Virginia Slims cigarettes.
When challenged by former champion, professional showboat Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) to an exhibition match worth a great pay-day, she declines. But when Riggs makes short work of a fellow player, she takes the challenge. While on the road, Kathy finds herself struggling with her own sexuality, entering into an affair with a pretty young hairdresser. Knowing if it gets out that she is gay, she will be ruined they are forced to keep it quiet, though Kings husband, a thoroughly decent man who adores her, knows what is going on.
Riggs pulls stunt after stunt leading to the match, while King trains, knowing if she loses, women’s equal rights gets set back. History tells us she won, but she did not just win, she destroyed Riggs on the court, making him look like a fool with her obvious skill and strength. His first words to her after the match, “I underestimated you” forever a good sport.
Stone is terrific, capturing that aloof chilliness in a King many took as arrogance but was in fact a woman single-minded in her path, to be the very best there ever was in women’s tennis. The performance will again land her in the race for Best Actress.
Carell, after shocking audiences as John Du Pont if Foxcatcher (2014) is outstanding as Riggs, terrified of being forgotten, needing to be in the limelight. It is a big, funny performance that gets serious only when he is on the court, which if you recall, was Riggs. The film will no doubt be a hit with audiences, as it strikes a chord, and remains topical today.