September 21, 2017

CINEMA | 'Battle of the Sexes' Breaks Serve

Emma Stone Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton | Battle of the Sexes

Little Miss Sunshine directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton dramatize the real-life events leading up to the 1973  man vs. woman tennis exhibition match in Battle of the SexesEmma Stone and Steve Carell star exquisitely as intriguing portraits of athletes Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

Sports dramas injected with real-life progressive political movements involving race or gender are inherently compelling but are sometimes limited to formulaic good vs. bad conflicts devoid of much subtext. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy manages to condense the heavy-handed drama, King's own sexual discovery, and the personal struggles of all those involved with enough excitement and sentiment to make Battle of the Sexes altogether earnestly satisfying.

Stone is just pitch perfect in embodying King's physicality and work ethic. She doesn't disappear into the role as much as she replicates her awkwardly charismatic tendencies perfectly. Carell seems naturally suited to effortlessly play the sort of well-meaning chauvinist clown more interested in gambling on his own success and fortune than saying anything about the women's movement. He provides just enough depth to make the over the top broadness of the figure still identifiable.

Andrea Riseborough brings an elusively appealing presence as King's not-so secret lover on tour. Sarah Silverman, Natalie Morales, and Alan Cumming all show up to liven things up in delightfully comical ways. Bill Pullman in particular plays a great, if obvious, heel as the smarmy tennis official standing in the way of women's progress. There are plenty of other famous, mostly comedic, faces in thankless, superfluous roles all dressed in period appropriate clothing.

Battle of the Sexes succeeds in economically dramatizing one of the most (in)famous real-life matches with the usual sports drama wrapped in a relevant historical political context. Stone is exceptional, Carell is lively, and the tennis is great. It's truly impressive how they replicated the final, momentous match. Faris and Dayton use the period setting and people to make a fairly timeless biographical film about the characters responsible for progress in tennis.

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