Film Review: ‘Battle of the Sexes’ Boasts Emma Stone’s Single Best Performance Yet

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For a film that is generated by the premise of an impending tennis match between famed champions Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton‘s very moving “Battle of the Sexes” is so much more than just a sports film.  It’s a timely examination of the struggles for women that existed over 40 years ago, and are very much still present today.  Headlined by another Oscar-worthy performance from Emma Stone, the film aches with an impressive and touching tale of self-discovery.

Battle of the Sexes,” tells the true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ, serial hustler, and self-proclaimed male-chauvinist Bobby Riggs.

While dabbling in the space of hilarity and sentimentality, the Fox Searchlight distributed film has much to say about a woman’s place in society and the constant battle to step into it.  Simultaneously heartbreaking and funny, the film is peppered with a forbidden love story between Billie Jean King and her hairdresser Marilyn (played by Andrea Riseborough) despite her marriage to her husband Larry (played remarkably by Austin Stowell).  While the film doesn’t fully blossom into a full-on epic romance, it showcases the inner struggles of coming to terms with yourself in a satisfying manner.

Just one year after winning the Academy Award for Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” Emma Stone tops her Oscar win head to toe.  She’s never been more aware or more involved in the dynamics of her character.  She envelops the famed tennis player from the natural stance to her iconic walk.  To top that, she displays the weight and stress of a woman that is still trying to find her way in a man’s world.

Battle of the Sexes | Steve Carell | Emma StoneAs Bobby Riggs, Steve Carell is having the time of his life, encountering the man’s silly antics to his deeper rooted problem surrounding his gambling addiction.  In one scene in particular shared with his wife Priscilla (played by Oscar nominee Elisabeth Shue), Carell shows the emotional heft that his antics have had on his life and family.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to muster in what is otherwise a straight-forward yet solid performance.

While Faris and Dayton give the film a picturesque 70’s-cinema aura, they fail to really capture the excitement of the actual sports matches.  Though it may not have been intended to be a sports film, when your subject is heavily centered around a particular endeavor, it’s your job to invite the audience into that world and support it as much as our leading characters do.  The directing duo never quite figures it out or rather Simon Beaufoy‘s script.

Battle of the Sexes” sets out on an agenda and nearly nails it consistently.  Boasting a terrific ensemble of some of our most gifted actors (in particular Bill Pullman and Sarah Silverman), the true story of a woman ultimately coming into her own is one that is both appreciated and delightful.

“Battle of the Sexes” is now playing in selected theaters and is distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. 

GRADE: (★)

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions and see where “BATTLE OF THE SEXES” ranks!

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