Battle of the Sexes: Stone and Carell serve up charm and chutzpah
Battle of the Sexes (TBC)
121 mins ★★★★
"We expected high humour and it's become a very serious thing."
One ABC tennis commentator's summation of the 1973 televised match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King also works equally well in assessing Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' well-constructed and surprisingly weighty dramatisation of the event.
For while the trailer suggested a knockabout sports comedy, this Battle feels sometimes less about gender equality and more about King's struggle to redefine her own sexual identity.
And although he pretty much steals the show, Steve Carell's Riggs is neither the villain (that's Jessica McNamee's Margaret Court) nor the pivotal character (Andrea Riseborough's Marilyn Bennett) in Simon Beaufoy's script (127 Hours, Everest).
* Emma Stone asked her male co-stars to take pay cuts for equal pay
* Paul Hogan seems to take on Margaret Court's claims on same-sex marriage
* Margaret Court controversy grows as her very own arena comes out for 'inclusion'
* John McEnroe makes light of Margaret Court same-sex marriage saga
* Billie Jean King hits out at Margaret Court's anti-LGBT comments
As the film opens, both Riggs and King (an excellent Emma Stone) are bemoaning their lot. She might be the most successful female tennis player of all time and he might have been a triple Grand Slam-winner, but now they both earn peanuts on their respective tours. King's solution was be a key part of the breakaway Women's Tennis Association, while Riggs was content to hustle his way to victory in a series of increasingly bizarre bets.
Initially resisting his overtures to meet on court, King is eventually persuaded to join him at the Houston Astrodome after his "Mother's Day Massacre" victory over her great rival Court. Billed by Riggs, as the "male chauvinist pig versus the hairy white feminist", the match would go down as a significant moment in both sports and US history.
Although, at times, the portentous dialogue threatens to overwhelm the fun factor, Battle succeeds thanks to the charisma and chutzpah of its two leads. Stone convinces as both a tennis player and a reluctant leader, while Carell just leaves nothing on the court as he memorably brings to life tennis' chief court jester.
An entertaining Battle that's sure to be a crowdpleaser.