King vs. Riggs. All the trappings of a good sporting event are present: cheerleaders, tubas, fans, signs, beer bellies, and expensive souvenirs. Nothing marks a turning point in women's liberation quite like a "Lobber vs. Lover" shot glass or a keychain that reads, "I watched Billie beat Bobby and all I got was this lousy keychain rammed up my nose by an angry drunk man." Bobby is ready -- "I'm an animal, I'm ready for the kill! People all around the world are depending on me for their honor!" he shouts in his dressing room. And he's right, in the sense that virgins around the world are depending on him not to touch them ever, under any circumstances. Billie Jean is getting a quiet massage in her empty room, and Bobby is bragging to his enormous posse that a sheik somewhere wagered one million dollars on his victory. Panting from his verbal excesses, Bobby chokes down his nutrient supplements. As Billie tries to collect her thoughts, her mother -- huh? Why is she there? She didn't want them to play at all! -- is being thoroughly charmed by the fey man who dressed Billie for the match. It's so stupid and irrelevant, I can't believe I just bothered to type it. My fingers are planning rebellion. "Billie's got a maaaahvelous sense of style," coos Fey Man. Billie Jean's mother is so proud that she has to choke back tears, because if her daughter is stylish then she's not butch.
Bobby is defending himself again. Someone asks if he bet on Billie Jean to win, and he grins that he bet $15,000 on himself. "I've got to defend my honor here," he says. "You don't think Bobby Riggs is gonna throw the match for some broad, do you?" Oh my God. This movie is making me so angry with its implications that Bobby either threw the match or cheated himself out of a victory by not relaxing. Bobby just sucks, okay? Billie Jean was better. Can't that be enough?
At a seventies house -- the same one from earlier, when the woman lobbed a dirty sponge at Bobby's face on the TV -- the suburban mother sets TV trays for dinner while her husband and two sons cheer Bobby. At a nursing home, an old woman says she's rooting for Bobby because he's old. Yeah, well, so is Jack Nicholson, and I won't be cheering for him anytime soon. A bunch of college-age women, sweet sorority sisters most likely, gather in the common room -- curlers everywhere, folks -- and yell for Billie Jean. Finally, an Afro-lovin' dude in a pea-green recliner changes the channel away from the match. Angry, his girlfriend pauses, stares at him, then screams and charges his recliner, knocking it right over as he topples out. That was some fabulous viewing.
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The next few scenes comprise a montage of Billie and Bobby's separate arrivals in Houston. He walks into a red, orange, and yellow nightmare of a dressing room, which looks like someone dropped E into a Tequila Sunrise and then pumped it onto the walls through a garden hose. Billie Jean's is blue and green. He whips out amino acids and vitamins; she loads sports drinks into the fridge. He checks for gray hairs, and she checks her racket strings. He tucks jockstraps into the drawer, and she stows sports bras. Same cup size, though, it seems. Hang on, I'm not sure which of them is on the receiving end of that insult. Good thing I'm an equal-opportunity bitch. While Bobby watches television and parties with his followers, Billie Jean is analyzing footage of Margaret's ill-fated match. Suddenly, she yells for Larry to stop the tape and rewind it. "I'll show you where she got into trouble," Billie says grimly. We see Bobby hand Margaret the flower bouquet, and she gives a curtsey in response. "That's where she gave it all up," Billie Jean grins.
Three tennis balls sit in the center of a glossy wooden conference table. "Welcome to the Astrodome, the finest sports facility in the world," says owner Judge Hofheinz. And yes, this is the same Astrodome -- stuffier than a vacuum-cleaner bag -- whose obsolescence led to the construction of Enron Field, the year-old replacement. Billie Jean, ever the eloquent one, says, "Right on." No, Billie Jean. You are right. And you are on. Hofheinz flips the coin, lets Billie Jean call it -- "heads" -- and then awards her the right to select which brand of balls will be in play during the match. "My balls of steel and his soft, sweaty crotch-putty," Billie Jean might have said, had she been drunk. Instead, we cut to a scene "one hour later," in which Bobby is talking needlessly. "You don't want a faster ball. I know your game!" he wheedles. "You'll do better with a slow ball." Billie Jean tells him to cut the crap. "I want this to last longer than three sets!" he protests. "I want you to play your best game." Bobby tries to play up his age, saying this could be the last match of his career and he wants her to hang in there as long as she can. Fed up, Billie suggests that she give up so that he doesn't go out having lost to a girl. "If I was a gentleman, I'd throw the match for you. It's the only way you're going to win," Bobby brags. "I'll throw in another handicap. I'll give you both alleys, I'll serve left-handed and I'll wear high heels." Everything is a joke to this guy, including women. He's repugnant, yet no one is reprimanding him -- even Billie Jean lets him blather as long as he likes without correcting him or even fighting back. Her reticence takes some of the bite out of her eventual victory. I guess she figures tennis will speak the volumes she chooses not to utter aloud. I'm not sure that, in the face of buffoonery that blatant, I would -- or could -- have been so restrained. Billie Jean does get up and walk out, claiming that she has a headache. "Girls are so sensitive," Bobby says, amazed. "Why is she so sensitive?"
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