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MOVIE REVIEW: Smashing tale of a game-changing match

Emma Stone and Steve Carell in a scene from Battle of the Sexes.
Emma Stone and Steve Carell in a scene from Battle of the Sexes. Melinda Sue Gordon

DON'T be fooled by the page boy bobs and mutton chop sideburns ... Battle Of the Sexes is as current as, well, the issue of same-sex marriage.

The timing of its release is so auspicious you wonder whether the filmmakers might not have had a mole in Malcolm Turnbull's office.

The quick-footed biopic takes its title from a farcical 1973 exhibition match - between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ageing male tennis champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

Husband-and-wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) and Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) set up the shots.

Mickey Summer and Emma Stone in a scene from Battle of the Sexes.
Mickey Summer and Emma Stone in a scene from Battle of the Sexes. Melinda Sue Gordon



Stone and Carell - Hollywood's version of elite athletes - return them with the power and accuracy of any top-ranked tennis professional.

When the film opens, King has set up a breakaway women's tennis competition in protest at the increasing disparity between the male and female prize pools.

The world's No. 1 woman tennis player and Gladys Heldman (a superbly cast Sarah Silverman), founder of World Tennis magazine, are galvanised into action when the Association of Tennis Professionals further reduces the women's slice of the pie in order to give the male players a greater share.

Sarah Silverman and Emma Stone in a scene from Battle of the Sexes.
Sarah Silverman and Emma Stone in a scene from Battle of the Sexes. Melinda Sue Gordon



ATP chief John Kramer (Bill Pullman) and his cronies are the real villains of the piece.

Riggs is a hustler and a showman for whom it's possible to feel a good deal of affection - partly because of the vulnerability Carell lends to his character.

When he comes up with the idea of an exhibition match, King initially turns him down.

But after Australian player Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) naively accepts the challenge and loses - to the undisguised glee of Kramer and other vocal male chauvinists - King feels she has been backed into a corner.

(The off-court tension in Battle Of the Sexes between King, who is having an affair with a woman, and Court, an outspoken critic of same-sex marriage who recently described homosexuality as "ungodly", is also strangely topical.)

Against her better judgment, King agrees to play Riggs in a high stakes game - much of which is played out in the media.

Eric Christian Olsen and Steve Carell in a scene from Battle of the Sexes.
Eric Christian Olsen and Steve Carell in a scene from Battle of the Sexes. Melinda Sue Gordon



Adding to the pressure is a blossoming extramarital romance with her hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough.)

Their chemistry is palpable.

Less convincing is the equanimity with which King's husband Larry (Austin Stowell) responds to their affair.

It's hard to imagine any human being behaving with quite so much dignity in such circumstances, but King is godmother to her former husband's children.

Battle Of the Sexes is a well-played crowd pleaser with a decent backhand volley.

Battle Of the Sexes opens on Thursday.
 

Battle of the Sexes

Stars: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue.

Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Rating: PG

Verdict: 4 stars
 

Topics:  emma stone movie review movies steve carell

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