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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Battle of the Sexes is a dramedy about the (in)famous real-life 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It tackles big issues like gender equality, sexism, and sexuality and has strong themes of perseverance, being true to yourself, and standing up for what you believe in. A major part of the plot centers on King, who was married to a man at the time, acknowledging to herself that she's attracted to women. She and her lover are shown kissing, embracing, and in bed together; sex is implied, but nudity is limited to a shot of an underwear-clad woman from behind. Language isn't constant but includes "s--t," "hell," "goddamn," and more. Men also refer patronizingly to women as "honey," "gals," "ladies," and "girls." Adults drink wine and cocktails, and there's a lot of smoking -- Virginia Slims sponsors the women's tour, and one character (who's always holding a cigarette) frequently urges the players to smoke more. Riggs takes a ton of vitamins and mysterious other pills in the lead-up to the match; he's also an unrepentant gambling addict. If you're a tennis fan, the high-stakes match footage will be right up your alley -- and even if you're not, you might find yourself holding your breath and cheering.
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What's the story?
It's 1973, and women's tennis superstar Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is infuriated when she finds out that an upcoming tournament will offer the men's winner eight times as much as the women's champ. Disgusted by arguments such as "men are more exciting to watch" and "it's just biology," she and friend Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) decide to set up their own tournament/tour -- and the Women's Tennis Association is born. A rough start gets smoother when the team lands a major sponsor (Virginia Slims), but the married King's internal turmoil grows as she acknowledges and eventually gives in to her powerful attraction to free-spirited hairstylist Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). Meanwhile, former men's tennis star Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) -- stifled by the quiet, domestic life he shares with rich wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue) -- comes up with the perfect idea to get himself back in the public eye: a big, publicized tennis match between him and King. She doesn't take the bait at first, but eventually King can't deny that it's her destiny to participate in the BATTLE OF THE SEXES.
Is it any good?
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' thoughtful dramedy is really more about King's personal journey than it is the big match between King and Riggs -- and that's a good thing. She has to do a fair bit of soul-searching before she's really ready to put it all on the line, and her struggles make her even more sympathetic. As played by Stone, King's softer, more vulnerable moments, especially the ones with Marilyn (Riseborough), help make her a real, relatable person -- not "just" a legendary athlete. Carell's Riggs, meanwhile, is both funny and sad; it's difficult not to chuckle at his wild schemes and antics, but it's clear that he pursues them because he can't find any other source of joy and excitement in his life. (That said, you may be hard-pressed to hold on to any kind feelings toward him once he starts gleefully spewing extreme male-chauvinist rhetoric.)
As for the infamous match itself, let's just say that it's always a good sign when a movie based on real-life events with a widely known outcome can build genuinely suspenseful "how will it turn out?" tension at critical junctures (see: Apollo 13). Even non-tennis fans will be caught up in the serves and rallies. And while you can't help wishing that the issues King was fighting for -- equal pay and respect for women -- were as much a thing of the past as all of the movie's '70s cars, clothes, and props (airport TVs!), the fact that they're still timely makes Battle of the Sexes all the more relevant and compelling.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Battle of the Sexes' messages. What is it saying about gender roles and the way that men and women are treated? Was the situation in the '70s a lot different than it is today? Why or why not?
Why do you think Billie Jean was reluctant to share her feelings for Marilyn publicly? Do you think someone in her position would face the same challenges today? Why or why not?
How accurate do you think the movie is to the way things really happened? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the facts in movies based on real life?
- In theaters: September 22, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: January 2, 2018
- Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
- Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some sexual content and partial nudity
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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