Battle of the Sexes

The 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King was a made-for-TV carnival, broadcast on ABC and viewed by some 90 million people, which makes it excellent material for a movie (even as the war rages on). Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, best known for Little Miss Sunshine (2006), meticulously re-create the match, but British screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) puts so little thought into his minor characters that the era’s gender politics seem grossly oversimplified. Dayton and Faris treat the event more as a personal story in which King anguishes over her bisexuality, with Andrea Riseborough as a golden-maned hairdresser who beds the tennis star and schools her in the virtue of self-acceptance. As King and Riggs, Emma Stone and Steve Carell are both excellent, which makes you wish Beaufoy had done more with the story’s most complicated friendship—between the two well-matched athletes. With Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, and Elisabeth Shue.