Melinda Sue Gordon, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Steve Carell and Emma Stone in “Battle of the Sexes.”
“BATTLE OF THE SEXES” — 2½ stars — Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman; PG-13 (some sexual content and partial nudity); in general release
On its surface, “Battle of the Sexes” presents itself as a semicomic recreation of the 1973 exhibition showdown between 29-year-old women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King and 55-year-old chauvinist ex-men’s champion Bobby Riggs. But audiences expecting a simple sports underdog movie will find a lot more than that waiting for them.
The stage is set shortly after King’s 1972 U.S. Open title, when after a dispute over women’s tennis earnings, she and a group of like-minded female players split off from Jack Kramer’s U.S. Lawn Tennis Association to form their own group, which eventually launched the Virginia Slims Tour. At this point, King (played by Emma Stone) is at the peak of her powers, rivaled only by Australian Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee).
King is in much better shape than Riggs (Steve Carell), who is struggling to find meaning working for his wealthy father-in-law and struggling to keep a serious gambling addiction from his long-suffering wife Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue). (In one of the film’s lighter moments, Riggs stands up in front of a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting and insists that their root problem isn’t gambling itself, but the fact that they are lousy at it.)
Ever the opportunist, Riggs sees King’s success as a golden opportunity in the midst of the Women’s Lib 1970s and challenges her to a match, loudly insisting…