Rated: PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: September 22, 2017 Released by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Ambitious, timely and crowd-pleasing real-life interpretation from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) examines social issues from the backdrop of a famous tennis match played at the Houston Astrodome in 1973. Especially in light of social media activity earlier this year between controversial, if disparate icons of the sport - John McEnroe and Serena Williams.
Battle of the Sexes often feels like a winner of a shot on the court because of the casting of Emma Stone (La La Land) and Steve Carell (The Big Sick, Despicable Me 3) as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The approach is a fine repartee and insider which gives resonance to conflicts both faced. The result deserves a wide audience though it likely will be embraced more by the distaff crowd, and it would be interesting if the millennial demographic is drawn to Stone being on the marquee.
Nevertheless, there is a mercurial passion simmering in this tale from scribe Simon Beaufoy. Billie Jean is upset with pay inequality in her sport in 1972. Along with Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) she departs the male-oriented league to form the Women's Tennis Association (WTA). It doesn't sit well with USTA boss Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) who thinks the decision is a lost cause, even a bluff.
The filmmaking finely explores the problems facing King and Riggs. The former has a crisis with marriage and her sexuality as she strikes up a relationship with hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) while keeping things hush from hubby Larry (Austin Stowell, a central Connecticut native).
Meanwhile, famed over-the-hill (mid 50s) Riggs, known for his gaming habits wants to prove once and for all that women are inferior to men in the sport by challenging King to an exhibition (best of three sets) tennis match. She turns him down, but he's able to get her esteemed rival Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) who acquiesces but is defeated by him. Finally, the loss fires up Billie Jean who welcomes his charged solicitation, setting into motion the titular event.
Some may argue that Stone at least equals, if not exceeds, her Oscar-winning turn opposite Ryan Gosling in the much lauded musically vibrant film. The pluck of King is evident as various facets are unveiled - a sweet, sensitive woman - an influential one in the mold of Susan B. Anthony. Even though he might in essence be upstaged by Stone to a degree, Carell is a solid foil sprinkling much daft wit into the misogynistic Riggs along with bona fide emotion. As a conversation with wealthy patron wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue) substantiates.
Faris and Dayton work very well with their technical staff to really get the aesthetic of the period down to a tee to breathe life in the filmic environment and, of course, the characters. Even the auxiliary ones like women's uniform designer Ted Tinling (exacted with a devoted flair by Alan Cumming). Though not the same surprisingly facile outrageous entertainment as Sunshine, Sexes battles and rallies its way to a well-earned victory.
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