Battle of the Sexes is set in 1973. The world’s number one tennis champion, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is disgusted to learn that female players are being offered only one eighth of what male players receive. She and friend Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) decide to boycott the pro tennis circuit and establish a women’s circuit of their own. During this time Billie Jean must confront her feelings for the team’s hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). Marilyn is clearly in love with Billie Jean, despite the fact that Billie Jean’s devoted husband Larry (Austin Stowell) is waiting in the wings.
Meanwhile retired tennis champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), bored with the mundane and predictable life he shares with his wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue), comes up with a plan to put himself back in the spotlight again. Playing up to his reputation as a self-proclaimed chauvinist pig, he gives the media a lot to talk about while trying to prove that men are better than women.
At first Billie Jean refuses to play Riggs, but when the Australian champion Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) endures a crushing defeat at his hands, Billie Jean feels she has no choice. She decides to play Riggs to put him in his place and to prove, if nothing else, that women deserve the same respect as men. It is an epic battle – not just a game of tennis, but a fight for fairness and equality and the right to be who you truly are.
Gender inequality and sexism; homosexuality; infidelity; gambling addiction
Battle of the Sexes has some verbal arguments.
Battle of the Sexes has some sexual references. For example:
- Billie Jean and the other female players talk about going on a sex strike in addition to their boycott of the pro tennis circuit. They talk about how much some of them would miss it.
- In a scene with a lot of sexual tension, Marilyn turns to Billie Jean and tells her that ‘it must be intoxicating being inside your skin’.
- When Marilyn asks Billie Jean if she can kiss her, Billie Jean responds by saying that she ‘has only ever been with Larry’.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Battle of the Sexes shows some use of substances. For example:
- Characters frequently smoke cigarettes.
- The women go out to a bar one night and everyone is drinking.
- Marilyn shares champagne with Billie Jean.
- Bobby takes frequent supplements before the final tennis match. They are promoted as vitamin or energy pills, but their content is unclear.
- One of Bobby Riggs’s slogans is ‘Whiskey, women and Riggs’.
Nudity and sexual activity
Battle of the Sexes has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- Marilyn is seen wearing only underpants as she goes from the bed to the bathroom.
- There is a sex scene between Marilyn and Billie Jean in which they kiss passionately, take off their clothes (leaving their underpants on) and lie in bed together, breathing heavily and kissing and touching each other. Sex is implied but not shown.
- Billie Jean says that whatever she feels for Marilyn she can’t act on. Her resolve doesn’t last long and she soon finds herself in Marilyn’s bed passionately kissing her again.
- Marilyn and Billie Jean continue to sleep together in various hotels along the tour.
- Bobby poses nude for a photo shoot, claiming that it’s his third nude shoot of the day.
Virginia Slims cigarettes are promoted throughout Battle of the Sexes because the company funded the women’s tennis tour at the time. Various women players are shown smoking throughout the movie, and the team’s manager openly encourages them to do so.
Battle of the Sexes has some coarse language, including sexist language. Women are repeatedly referred to throughout the movie in a very condescending way. For example:
- Bobby tells the media that the pretty girls surrounding him are going to come home with him and that they’re going to do his laundry.
- Bobby explains that he has nothing against women and that he ‘loves them in the bedroom and the kitchen’, and that all women should head back to the kitchen where they belong.
- Billie Jean’s manager asks Kruger why she isn’t welcome. She says, ‘Is it because I am a Jew or because I am a woman?’
Ideas to discuss with your children
Battle of the Sexes is based on a true story. It will appeal to mature audiences who can appreciate the humour and understand the significance of the events in the story. It lacks interest for younger children. Also, because of its themes and sexual references, it’s best suited to viewers aged 15 years and over.
The main messages from this movie are to believe in yourself and your dreams and to never back down, even if half the world is telling you that you’ll never succeed.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include persistence, hard work, team spirit and creativity.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like the following:
- Inequality and discrimination on the basis of gender, culture or religion: when half the world is denied equal rights and opportunities true progress can’t be achieved. Billie Jean proves to everyone that women deserve the same respect as men.
- Gambling: Bobby is a gambler and although he initially wins, his biggest gamble ultimately results in a crushing defeat of his personal beliefs and the loss of his family.
- Infidelity: Billie Jean has an affair with Marilyn despite the fact that she’s married at the time. The consequences of this are not clearly shown in the movie.