Can an inspirational movie also be a drag?
That’s the distinct feeling one can’t shake walking out of ” Battle of the Sexes ,” a fictionalized rendering of the 1973 tennis match between 29-year-old Billie Jean King and 55-year-old hustler Bobby Riggs and the circumstances surrounding it.
At stake is the opportunity for women in tennis to even get equal pay consideration, the reputation of a player who could have just stayed in her lane and the perceptions of society at large and, perhaps most importantly, the men in power.
“I’m going to be the best,” says Emma Stone playing Billie Jean. “That way I can really change things.”
Fast forward 44 years: We’re still here, aren’t we?
“Battle of the Sexes,” directed by the “Little Miss Sunshine” team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”), is on the whole a fairly standard, if unexceptional film that has two major things going for it: Emma Stone and timeliness.
The story begins by establishing Billie Jean as the best female player in the world — celebrated and adored everywhere she goes — but still not worthy of even half of the prize money top male tennis players were getting in 1972.
A well-cast Stone, fresh off her Oscar win for playing an aspiring actress in “La La Land,” transforms into the quiet, driven and sharp tennis pro with the help of a dye job and wire rim glasses.
After trying logic on Association of Tennis Professionals head Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman, who smiles sweetly as he spouts sexist fictions), she and eight other female players boycott the tournament and form their own with the help of Gladys Heldman (a chain-smokin’, fast-talkin’, no-nonsense doer played by a fabulously styled Sarah Silverman) and a Virginia Slims sponsorship.
It’s in this climate that Bobby Riggs (played with great panache by Steve Carell), a bored, washed up pro with a wealthy wife (Elizabeth Shue) and a gambling problem proposes a male vs. female tennis match with him playing the self-titled “male chauvinist pig” and the woman as the “hairy-legged feminist.” Billie Jean says no at first, but after Bobby crushes Aussie tennis champ Margaret Court, she decides she has to play in order to redeem her sport.
Behind all of this, the movie attempts to take on the personal lives of the key players — Bobby’s gambling, failing marriage and strained relationship with his grown son, and Billie Jean’s struggle with her own marriage to a man (Austin Stowell) and a…