Battle of the Sexes 2017 ****

Tennis is generally something of a disaster area for films; fine for a single scene (Strangers on a Train), a feature film tends to come off the rails (Players, Wimbledon). For films like Borg Vs McEnroe, the narrative feels like a long build up to a climax that can’t match up to the actual event. Jonathan Drayton and Valarie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) take the media circus around the tennis challenge match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and dial back the obvious comedy potential; the film is light, but there are hidden depths in the portrayal of women fighting against male domination. Emma Stone and Steve Carell both personify their characters well, despite not looking much like them physically, and Bill Pullman has an effective villainous turn. The final match itself is fairly rousing, as Riggs comes undone in a public humiliation, and King reigns in a crowd-pleasing finale; for some reason, the crowds didn’t turn up for this enjoyable film, but perhaps streaming will redeem it for the ages. There’s also some nice support from Andrea Riseborough as King’s lover and Fred Armisten as a drug-peddling supporter of Riggs.


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