To understand why the famous Bobby Riggs/Billie Jean King tennis match was such a big deal, you need to understand everything that was going on at the time. Roe vs Wade overturned state abortion laws. The United States withdrew from Vietnam. Watergate trheatens the Nixon presidency. Native Americans were conducting sit-ins for Native rights. NASA ended it's moon landings with Apollo 17.


It was 1973 and the year started out with Helen Reddy's I Am Woman in the number one spot to open the year and became the national anthem for the women's rights movement. Gloria Steinem launched Ms. magazine and Billie Jean King was her cover girl. Most white men, didn't want to hear this crap, especially those in charge of pretty much everything...including sports.


Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (both responsible for "Little Miss Sunshine" and Ruby Sparks) again teamed up to tell the story of how feminism and chauvinism clashed in a televised encounter in Houston's Astrodome.

"Battle of the Sexes" recaptures the mood of the period and delves behind the scenes to tell of the personal dramas both participants were living away from the match. Cast as Billie Jean King is Emma Stone, fresh off her "La La Land" Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She is countered by Steve Carell portraying an aging Bobby Riggs.


At the time the US Lawn Tennis Association sanctioned all professional tournaments and pulled the purse strings which heavily favored the male players. Billie Jean, already outspoken about the parity helped form a womens circuit with her pal Rosie Casals and eight other players, which USLTA president Jack Kramer (portrayed by Bill Pullman) booted them and condemned the new league.


Nearly bankrupt hustler and gambler Riggs saw this as an opportunity to make some money by challenging first Margaret Court (Jessica MacIsaac) to a Mothers Day match in which he would prove that the best woman was no match even for a 55-year old former pro player. This set the stage for the Mothers Day Massacre which Riggs won and gave him reason to call out Billie Jean.


But Billie Jean was avoiding being outed as a lesbian while she carried on an extramarital affair with her hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) under the nose of her husband Larry (Austin Stonewall). Meanwhile Riggs has been booted out the house by his lovely and wealthy honey named Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue) who was sick of his gambling.


The film does an outstanding job explaining the hows and whys of the formation of the Women's Tennis Association and the creation of the Virginia Slims tennis circuit by Billie Jean and her friend publicist Gladys Helman (Sarah Silverman). It also relates the fragility of social change, if Billie Jean had come out about her sexual preferences it would have ruined all of womens tennis and possibly womens sports. Sure enough, when she was outed by Marilyn several years later, Billie Jean was financially devastated when she lost all her endorsement deals.


Carell is spot on with his portrayal of the buffoonish Riggs and Natalie Morales is a nearly perfectly cast as Rosie Casals - though the role was not representaive of their life long friendship. Emma Stone is only acceptable as Billie Jean. She lacks the fiery personality of the tennis legend and - despite an intense bulking up regimen - lacks the phyiscal muscle. But there is a comendable effort that must be noted.


Baby Boomers who remember those matches and the circumstances surrounding the challenge will probably notice the absence of Helen Reddy's number one hit - especially since it was Billie Jeans theme song!


"Battle of the Sexes" is an enjoyable recreation of a monumental event in sports history. For those who don't know the outcome, it has bonafide cheering moments and a thorough story.   -- GEOFF BURTON