Battle of the Sexes takes viewers back to 1973 and the Houston Astrodome, the setting of the famous exhibition tennis match between feminist icon Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), then 29, and chauvinist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), then 55. As viewers learn, the game wasn't the only thing at stake for King. Here's what critics are saying:
- Battle of the Sexes is not only "almost remedial in its timeliness, given last year's political grudge match," but it's "warm, earnestly entertaining" and "a pleasure to watch," writes Ann Hornaday at Washington Post. Directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton bring the 1970s to life "with verve and humor," helped by "gifted comic actors in supporting turns that crackle with winking good fun," she adds. Sarah Silverman, in particular, stands out.
- Stone plays King as "an undauntable renegade" in public but "racked with self-doubt" in private, while Carell's chauvinistic Riggs is "more clownish than offensive," writes Leah Greenblatt at Entertainment Weekly. The pair hardly ever meet except for their famous match, which doesn't really wow. But that "hardly matters," writes Greenblatt. "The symbolic power of what happened there—one small step, one giant leap for womankind—is still the movie's truest ace."
- Supporting actors Silverman and Alan Cumming "steal every scene they're in." But it's Carell who brings his "A game" so that Riggs emerges as "marginally, the more poignant character," according to John Anderson at the Wall Street Journal. "Carell is both a bona-fide movie star and a marvelous actor, two things that don't always go together" and "watching him play the bratty Riggs evokes something very close to love," he writes.
- Inkoo Kang at the Wrap agrees Carell shines, but she attributes this to "the meekness of the characterization of King. Hardly anywhere in sight is the ambition and hyper-competitiveness that it takes to become a record-breaking champion." But though "subtle," Stone's performance is still "compelling," and the film is "handsome and moving" and "full of smart complexities" that should make it "a serious awards contender," Kang writes.
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