Emma Stone is fresh off her La La Land win and wonderfully sharp as Billie Jean King. Although baring little in physical appearance to the actual tennis player, she embodies the mannerisms, the sounds, and the hunched over walk wonderfully. The 1973 match is a media circus that she's unwillingly roped into, but only a small part of the larger battle she was fighting for feminism and women's equality.
Stone and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs give nuanced, breathable performances as their real-life counterparts. For all of Riggs' spouting of women good in the kitchen and in the bedroom, Carell is able to give humor and complexity to a man certainly deplorable, but also more complicated than his manipulation of the popular opinion would convey.
Battle doesn't hit all of the right notes. It's a bit heavy-handed at times, like Alan Cumming's superfluous last lines. And some of the contrived drama doesn't make sense -- the relationship between Carell and his grown son is puzzling, and King's relationship with the team hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) is given too much significance in terms of that final battle than is probable.
However, the film thrives in the small moments that are thankfully free from explanation: a scene with two chocolate ice cream cones, another closed glance given in the locker room, and probably the most luminous hair salon scene shot in Hollywood. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren (also off of La La Land) gives these scenes a halo, and allows us to bathe in their warmth. All of the extreme close shots made by Dayton and Faris are therefore not uncomfortable or claustrophobic, but instead intimate. In the scene where Billie Jean is getting her hair cut, we feel amazingly as if we're the ones that are being cared for.
It's a wonderful cast, and if some characters are more paper-thin than others, it also goes to show perhaps how some people are a bit blinder than others, no matter the issue. Sarah Silverman, however, is brilliant in her role and I only wish she could have been given more screentime throughout (or if she could have even been given those Alan Cumming lines).
Battle does a good job showing that the main fight, and the "enemy" so to speak, was not necessarily Riggs, but a fight to grapple with social norms and belief of the time. Especially in the light of media circus surrounding the match, it's a relevant film to watch in the wake of present times. And if you think that 40 years has changed much, consider this interview with former tennis pro John McEnroe to experience more than a little deja vu.