In Battle of the Sexes, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's film rehashing the most infamous tennis match in modern history, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) must brawl with her coed tennis league for equal pay as she comes to terms with her attraction to women and what might be the dissolution of her marriage to tennis promoter Larry King (Austin Stowell). Everything seems to come to a head when aging tennis star Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) challenges King to a male-female matchup to settle once and for all whether women are equal to men -- or just to make some cash, and help Billie prove a point.
This is a story that's been begging for a Hollywood telling since 1973. It boasts two recent Oscars veterans, the directing team behind Little Miss Sunshine, a script from Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours) and design from Judy Becker (Carol, American Hustle, Brokeback Mountain). Should be a grand slam, right?
Not quite. Stone and Carell fully embody their characters, with Stone playing a subdued version of the cocky King and Carell embracing the bizarre antics of Riggs, who had turned his tennis career into an exhibition sideshow act. In real life, these two -- the feminist and the self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig -- were friends; the last words Billie spoke to Bobby before his death were, "I love you." Stone and Carell ace the warmth and competitive camaraderie of that relationship. When Billie and Bobby interact with everyone else in this story -- specifically love interests -- woo-boy does Battle of the Sexes whiff the serve.