With the historical and inspirational tale Battle of the Sexes, Little Miss Sunshine directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton mount a dramatic retelling of a loaded, watershed moment in professional sports: a big money exhibition tennis match between women’s rights advocate, world champion, and closeted lesbian Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a 55-year old hall of famer and family man turned gambling addicted burn-out who’s willing to play a chauvinistic heel to Jean’s heroine for the sake of notoriety and a quick buck.
The screenplay from Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) is resolutely dreadful, clunking along with awful dialogue and never meeting an obvious cliché that it didn’t want to immediately embrace. But the sentiment is certainly there, and Faris and Dayton do a wonderful job grounding the less than exemplary material by steeping the film in an old-timey feeling and recreating key period details and ideals.
But the only real reasons to see this are Stone and Carell, both of whom are starting dopplegangers for their real life counterparts without doing outright impressions. These are five star performances in two star movie, and they’re such perfect foils for one another that they wrestle the film into something charming.
Is Battle of the Sexes essential viewing?
Probably not at the festival, since it comes out around the end of September, anyway, and even after the festival, I’d probably still wait for home viewing.