Battle of the Sexes, B
Rated PG-13, 121 minutes
The engaging, well-acted dramedy "Battle of the Sexes" is more than a movie about a simple tennis match. Like any sports movie, it's the backdrop for larger issues at hand: relationships, gender roles, sexuality and being ourselves. It doesn't quite take itself as seriously as it should, considering the issues it examines, but it's still a worthwhile look at an important event that helped shaped the roles of men and women.
The 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Oscar-winner Emma Stone, charming) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) became the most watched televised sports event of all time. Trapped in the media glare, King and Riggs were on opposites sides of a binary argument, but off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. With her husband Larry ("Bridge of Spies" Austin Stowell) urging her to fight for equal pay, the private King was also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, while Riggs gambled his legacy and reputation in a bid to relive the glories of his past.
"Battle of the Sexes" is directed by "Little Miss Sunshine's" Valerie Farris and Jonathan Dayton and written by "Slumdog Millionaire's Simon Beaufoy, it easily draws the lines of antagonist and protagonist, with charming chauvinist Riggs as the former, and King as the latter, though it strives to examine both with flaws off the court. Riggs, painted here more as a circus showman than a pig, had well-documented problems with gambling, while King struggled and hid her sexuality for years.
Carrell's the most inspired of the cast, bringing sympathy and heart to a largely reviled figure, while Stone's an inviting presence as King, even if she, must like the film itself, lacks a little gravitas. Stowell, as her long-suffering husband Larry, along with Elisabeth Shue as Riggs's wife Priscilla, as well as Alan Cumming, as resident women's tennis stylist Ted Tinling, Sarah Silverman as women's tennis organizer Gladys Heldman, Bill Pullman as chauvinist announcer Jack Kramer and Andrea Riseborough as King's lover Marilyn Barnett round out the large, stellar supporting cast of real people.
The final, climactic battle between King and Riggs is well-choreographed and timed to inspire and cheer, though "Battle of the Sexes" seems to skim over many complex issues and drawing simple lines between others. When Cumming's flamboyant Tinling embraces King after the match and tells her that one day she'll "be able to love who she chooses," it feels out of place for the time period, even if the statement is true.
You laugh, you'll cry, you'll cheer. You'll enjoy the poignant "Battle of the Sexes" and it could net Carrell another Oscar nomination, but it still lacks the power considering all the issues it carries on its shoulders.