Ten­nis tus­sle a crowd-pleas­ing clash Bat­tle of the Sexes (TBC)

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE -

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).

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. The match would go down as a sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment in both sports and US his­tory.

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 crowd-pleaser. – James Croot

Emma Stone con­vinces as both a ten­nis player and a re­luc­tant leader in Bat­tle of the Sexes.

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