Usually reliable directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks) somehow manage to make the story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ infamous early 1970s tennis match quite boring.
In Battle of the Sexes, King is played by Emma Stone, who brings a nice warmth to the role of King, one of the great trailblazing athletes of the 20th century. Steve Carell labors a bit as Riggs, the chauvinist pig who challenged the much-younger King to a battle of the sexes, an exhibition tennis match to prove the superiority of the male athlete.
The actual match happens in the film’s final half-hour, and it’s an entertaining segment that manages to incorporate real footage of Howard Cosell and a realistic depiction of the actual tennis play. What the movie doesn’t do is have much of a pulse in the buildup, portraying King’s love life in a way that would seem too schmaltzy for your average soap opera. Surely, there must’ve been some fireworks when the married King started sleeping with her hairdresser on her tennis tour, but this movie instead takes a dull and sappy route.
I expected to laugh more, but the movie just sort of drags along until Stone and Carell pick up their racquets, which looked a lot like badminton racquets back in the 1970s. The movie also tries to make Riggs too likable; it would’ve been OK to make him a little nastier.
No doubt: Billie Jean King is a legend. This movie doesn’t quite live up to that legend.
Battle of the Sexes is playing at theaters across the valley.