Emma Stone stars as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell is Bobby Riggs in the 1970s-set sports film ‘Battle of the Sexes.’
Fox Searchlight

While Battle of the Sexes is a reminder of the gender issues still plaguing us, it wholeheartedly embraces the equality of its two excellent leads.

Emma Stone and Steve Carell serve up great performances as tennis icons/rivals Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in the dynamite retro biopic (***½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters Friday in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington, expands nationwide Sept. 29). The famous 1973 throwdown between the two is sufficiently over the top with marching bands and baby pigs, though it’s the emotional before and cathartic after that overshadow the spectacle. 

The audience has to wait to see the two lead actors’ chemistry: Apart from a few phone calls, King and Riggs aren’t shown together until later in the movie when their parallel story lines finally meet.

Related: Billie Jean King really wants Emma Stone to win (another) Oscar for ‘Sexes’

Also: Billie Jean King, Emma Stone relive history of ‘Battle of the Sexes’

Appalled by the fact that female players make eight times less than their male counterparts, King becomes the face of the fledgling Women’s Tennis Association tour, a risky proposition for all involved. “The men are simply more exciting to watch,” tennis promoter Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) tells King. “It’s not your fault. It’s biology.”

King’s game is fueled by such thinking, though she becomes distracted when she falls for L.A. hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) and worries their relationship will come out during this not-so-open-minded era. 

While King, 29, is in her prime, 55-year-old Riggs’ heyday is far behind. His days are spent at an office job, nights are spent gambling with friends — much to the chagrin of his disapproving wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). As his marriage and home life crumble around him, Riggs increasingly sees a match against King as a way to get back on top, though it isn’t until he annihilates…