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Yes No Maybe So: "Battle of the Sexes" (plus some Holly Hunter trivia)

By Nathaniel R

Keep talking, Bobby. The more nonsense you spout, the worse it's going to be when you lose.

One of this fall's potential crossover films, in that it has both crowd pleasing and awards appeal (should it be any good that is) is the retelling of the super-famous Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs tennis match from 1973. Though I was alive at the time, I was way too young to know anything about that. I grew up in the age of Martina Navratilova vs Chris Evert and John McEnroe vs Everyone, though, and that match was a common cultural reference point. And tennis was the only sport I really fell in love with. Why? Couldn't say for sure but I suspect it was because it has more easily understood interpersonal dynamics (just two people... or four) at war... only non-violently. My best childhood friend and I even played tennis regularly together. I never got very good but later in high school he made the team! Which is all a terribly long way of saying, tennis movies hold instant interest in theory. They don't make them very often and they're largely unsuccessful when they do. Don't believe me, try to name more than one or two! (I'll wait).  

So let's breakdown the first trailer to Fox Searchlight's Battle of the Sexes after the jump. Are we optimistic, worried, or somewhere inbetween?


  • Emma Stone's victory lap. It's always of interest to watch a performer in their first post Oscar role. Oftentimes they were filmed before that major life event but you can still feel that perceptions about that performer change all around you. If she's great in this people will be kinder about her Oscar win.
  • Do you think of Little Miss Sunshine as a "visual" film? I don't really but something about the production design and 70s props and cinematography looks very appealing in this trailer. Can't wait to see if its accomplished work in feature form. 
  • Though it'd be great to see more out actors get big roles as famous gays, Emma looks as appealing as ever as Billie Jean and total chameleon Andrea Riseborough is playing her girlfriend and Riseborough is always worth watching. She's even good in terrible movies. The movie doesn't seem to be shying away from the lesbian angle which is good news. (In fact, now that I think of it maybe the gayness of women's tennis was an early influence on my interest in the sport too? I remember my parents NOT approving of Martina Navratilova, for instance.)
  • Aside from the obvious win of Riseborough, this supporting cast looks kind of amazing, don'cha think? Shue, Cumming, Pullman, Silverman


  • Some people will tell you the late September release date is a bad sign -- that the studio doesn't believe in the movie or whatnot. I'm not sure about that but maybe it's the fate of other tennis pictures. Something makes me worried.
  • Will the playful misogyny we see in the trailer via Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean and her ladyfriends playing along if only to best him, be gross at feature length. Might it be really out of step with our current moment when misogyny is now newly empowered and super ugly and everyone feels shitty about it?
  • Steve Carell. Listen, he brought this on himself. When he first entered the movies he did either really small but very funny supporting roles or surprisingly impactful subdued dramatic work in comedies (he's great in Little Miss Sunshine) but as his star grew so did the performances. That's not a compliment. Asking a ham to play a ham is potentially just way too much ham.


  • Will the playful misogyny we see in the trailer via Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean and her ladyfriends playing along if only to best him, be gross or 'humiliate the dinosaur!' empowering at feature length? It seems like a super tricky line to walk especially given our current moment when misogyny is no longer at a safe archaically "cute" distance but newly emboldened, super ugly, and making 70%* of the world feel super shitty lately.
  • This thing will probably live or die by the nimbleness of its script. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether this will be any good!

*I've decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that 30% of humanity is hopeless and unreachably stupid or vile so we just need to focus on making sure the other 70% understands how to improve the world and peacefully coexist and not give into utterly gross and backwards patriarchal brainwashing about people with vaginas. 


Are you a Yes, No or Maybe So?

P.S. And here's the fun simple teaser poster though they'll surely replace it with floating heads soon enough. 

P.P.S. And for you youngsters out there, this is not the first time this story has been filmed. It was previously made into a TV movie in 2001 with Holly Hunter (PERFECTLY cast and Emmy nominated) and Ron Silver.

One weird thing that has been little remarked upon in every article ever written on the golden age of television and "peak tv" is that TV movies seem to, by and large, have the shortest of all shelf lives. You rarely see them streaming. People don't talk about them after their season in the sun. Etcetera. It's slightly different for TV miniseries but not by all that much. TV series and Movies are the things that are most likely to "last" regardless of individual quality arguments ... not sure why there's that divide but it definitely exists. 

That's a pity because Holly Hunter was pretty great whenever she stepped into TV movies but it's like they don't exist anymore in the public consciousness and aren't streaming anywhere. She's been nominated five times for TV movies: The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (Emmy win), Roe vs Wade (Emmy win, not available even on DVD), Harlan County War, Things You Can Just By Looking At Her (the only one of them that's streaming - Amazon Prime) and When Billie Beat Bobby. Have you seen any of those? 

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Reader Comments (31)

I really want this to be good. Carrell gave Farris and Dayton a great performance in the past, so I am hopeful it can happen again.

There aren't many tennis movies, but I can think of some good movies that have some pretty great tennis scenes: Strangers on a Train, Clueless, Pat and Mike.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCash

I love Miss Stone so I will see it

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Carell 1,000% deserved that nomination for Foxcatcher (which should've received a best picture nomination as well... guess it was too chilly).

I also thought he was best in show in The Big Short, even if I wasn't entirely wild about the film as a whole.

Looking forward to this, even if it seems a bit contrived. Whatever you think about Emma Stone's acting abilities, she certainly is a star.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Holly Hunter seems to put more work into her physique than Emma Stone. I guess times have changed and toned women are scary. Need to keep them anorexic to meet the fashion ideal: human clothes hangers. Straight and gay men share the blame.

I've decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that 30% of humanity is hopeless and unreachably stupid or vile...

If you've seen humanity try to drive a car, you know that 30 is way too low.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

Aaron agreed about Carell in Foxcatcher but I love Fiennes and Gyllenhaal more that year,This trailer is intirguing,so the date is September gives it more time to become an embedded favoutite that won't win but people love.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

As far as I know, Steve's only missteps were in Foxcatcher and The Big Short. His failure in The former was an artistic misstep rather than him simply not giving it his best shot- it was a mistake. He tried, lol. and I blame the director for his weakness in the Big Short, almost everyone in that movie gave off performances- including arguably better actors Gosling and Pitt. God, that movie was a mess.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKris

I randomly found When Billie Beat Bobby on DVD at a Dollar Store a few months ago! I still haven't watched it though :(

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Emma Stone has spoken very warmly about this project so I am cautiously optimistic. As for Carrell, we shall have to see.
It was such a circus of an event, if the film captures half of that I will be happy. Count me as a yes.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

One of the common reasons given at that time for why women tennis professionals shouldn't have equal pay was that "they were just a bunch of lesbians". Right-thinking people shouldn't even watch them, much less allow them to be financially rewarded.

The Riggs "challenge" was part of the ongoing, continual, and ugly anti-gay, anti-female harassment of the "can't you take a joke?" variety. It was meant to humiliate women players.

Women pros fought for rights and respect. They were tough, uncompromising, and implacable. Holly Hunter could play that. Emma Stone cannot (and doesn't want to, she wants you to like her).

From the little we've seen of this upcoming film, it seems to think the strategy for gay and women's rights is to enter good-naturedly into humiliating contests, to smile more, and be cute and perky. Otherwise, they would have hired someone fierce and scary and athletic to play Billie Jean.

Billie Jean King is respected by the tennis community for making their sport better. They love her for being an uncompromising fighter, for taking her tennis skills of attack and power off the court and applying them to their profession.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradri

The actor in Foxcatcher who deserved a Best Actor nomination is Channing Tatum—not Steve Carrell. (Carrell was a distant third to Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, no contest.)

I really enjoyed Carrell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Office (mostly), but now all he seems to play is broad charicatures and stereotypes with very little nuance or subtlety. And this role certainly looks to call for more of the same.

I do like Emma Stone though—isn't it wild to see the Academy Award Winner tag before her name?—and love that she's top-billed, which probably was contractually obligated but is thrilling (and correct) to see nonetheless.

P.S. Elisabeth Shue is still so pretty. She deserves better, meatier roles than as Bobby Riggs' wife. Oof.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I probably want to see this although I did like the other movie with Holly Hunter as Billie Jean King.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

@adri, the Billie Jean King we know, respect, and love today is quite different from the public figure she was in the early '70s. While revisionist history may prefer to remember her as a warrior, on and off the court, the reality belies that notion. In fact, though she was a formidable, competitive, and competent player against her opponents in the game, Billie Jean did cut a far more guarded, demure path in her off-court life. It looks like they're aiming to capture both sides -- thornily personal and thrillingly professional -- which is the more compelling approach to take.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I wasn't expecting the movie to be as comedic or well directed as it seems to be. But it makes sense to give it a comedy edge, than to go for the straight dramatic retelling. Carell gave his best performance in a project by the makers of this film and he excels at playing assholes, so I am actually looking forward to what he offers up in this film. I didn't like him in the Big Short or Foxcatcher but I liked him in the 40YOV and Crazy Stupid Love.

Also, I love Emma Stone and don't mind the fact that she is an Oscar winner.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAbel

I agree that Stone looks very appealing in this and outside of Easy A I haven't been a huge fan.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Your number is wrong, not 30%. It's 60%.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMelchiades

A+ for use of Angie Jordan "Ham" gif.

I think Steve Carell is a 'maybe so' for me, as he excels at more broadly comedic roles, and this is bringing back peak Michael Scott vibes (sexist, loudmouth, unaware of his own limitations) and is also directed by the "Little Miss Sunshine" folk, who brought out what I think is his best movie performance.

May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I'm sold on this one. So my husband is. And we both LOVE, LOVE, LOVE "Little Miss Sunshine", a film that only grows on repeated viewings.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

Yes for Riseborough alone.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

I've seen all the Holly Hunter tv-movies you mention plus the ones that Stockard Channing did in the 90s. TV-Movies were the Netflix of underrated actresses.

Battle of the Sexes looks more than fine.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I was a fan of Billie Jean King back in the 70s and I recall after reading about her 'lesbian' affair on the front page of our national papers, I was more drawn to her persona than ever. By the time Chris Evert and Martina came onto the tennis scene, she was gradually in decline. She did beat Evert a few times when the latter was starting off but could not repeat her triumph against Evert thereafter. She had never even beaten Tracy Austin despite dismissing her as 'baby cakes' in the beginning. Billie Jean was really something, having won the most number of Wimbledon titles (20) which has never been surpassed even up till now.

Yeah, I saw the Holly Hunter's TV movie - she was utterly believable in the role. Hmm, I'm not sure if Emma Stone can capture the spirit of BJK like Hunter did. Talking about TV movies, has anyone seen Custody starring Viola Davis? I thought she played her role well even though the movie itself was a stinker. But I would really like to see Viola in something different, maybe a comedy or something, to stretch herself beyond her comfort zone which is drama.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJans

One thing I'm pleasantly suprised by - this movie looks and feels VERY Dayton/Faris. I'm not the hugest fan of LMS or Ruby Sparks, but they were OK enough. More importantly they were unique enough that combined with their prolific music video work, I'd consider it auteur. I was afraid Fox might interfere too much with this considering it an awards play, and that still might happen, but this trailer has made me feel much more interested in the movie.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

I am a big yes for the Emma Stone film. She is golden and makes me happy just to see her, like Meryl has for years.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJono

I want this film to be good most of all because it's nice for a change to have a young Best Actress winner not follow up their win with a superhero/franchise/cinematic universe movie.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

My film school editing professor (about 15 years ago) edited "When Billie Beat Bobby" so we watched it in class. Previously I'd never heard of it.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

I just loooove Things You Can Tell. Here in France it came out in theater but i was only 12 or so, so i had to settle for the trailer for years. Then i bought it on DVD and it was such a treat.... Every actress was brilliant, Flockhart was a dramatic revelation and Hunter was heartbreaking.

When i see it now i can see its flaws, but the love's still here, and the performances are so sensitive ...

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClement_Paris

Has Emma Stone ever given a successful performance in a period film? She wasn't credible in Gangster Squad or that Woody Allen film, and she was easily the worst part of The Help. Granted, this film takes place in a more recent era than any of those movies, but it's hard for me to picture her in any other time.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I don't want to see it.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Jans - Navratilova tied King's Wimbledon record when she won the mixed doubles back in 2003. :)

I've been looking for a copy of When Billie Beat Bobby (and A Little Thing Called Murder) for AGES but can't find it anywhere. :(

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

I assume the September release means its not an awards contender but it does look like it could be entertaining.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Boy, does Steve Carell look terrible in this, and I don't mean "so bad that he's good"/campy/guilty pleasure terrible. I mean outright terrible. What I've seen of him in the trailer is enough to make me a hard no on this one.

May 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Santy C - thanks for the clarification...I kept thinking Martina had been chasing BJK's record for the longest time when she was in fact trying to break it but to no avail (even partnering top-rated singles players in Wimbledon mixed and women's doubles).

May 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJans

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