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Film Reviews: A zinging ace

High stakes: Emma
Stone plays Billie Jean
King taking on a male
ex-Wimbledon champ
in Battle Of The Sexes
PICTURE: REX

THE BIG RELEASE

Battle of the sexes (12a)

★★★★✩

AN astonishing 90 million viewers tuned in to the ‘Battle Of The Sexes’, a one-off televised tennis match in 1973. It was a gender face-off between 29-year-old Billie Jean King (here played by La La Land’s Emma Stone) and her challenger, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a 55-year-old former Wimbledon winner who had recently trounced the world’s then No.1-ranked female player.

So who won the Battle? If you don’t know, we won’t spoil it. Given plenty do know, however, Battle Of The Sexes wisely concentrates on the off-court action. The backstory sees King set up her own Women’s Tennis Association after being frustrated at gender pay inequality in tennis. ‘We’re just as good and entertaining as the men,’ she insists. ‘You’re certainly cuter!’ rallies a media commentator.

Such relentless everyday sexism isn’t all King is contending with, however. She’s also fallen for her hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough), prompting much personal conflict, doey-eyed distraction and fear of being outed as a lesbian, all of which risks putting her off her game at a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher: the self-esteem of womankind hangs in the balance.

Teaming Little Miss Sunshine’s married directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris with Brit scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty) proves a winning combo. This is a nippy and entertaining watch. Emma Stone captures King’s physicality, her geeky toughness, focus and internal confusion, providing the perfect foil to Carell’s Riggs, a goofy hustler who proudly puts ‘the “show” in “chauvinism” ’.

However, it’s the support acts that make this zing. Austin Howell may fail to make much of his notably underwritten role as King’s husband but Riseborough works magic with similarly little as the secret lover. Meanwhile, the triple threat of Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming and Elisabeth Shue all rolled up in one film is a joy almost too great to bear.

THE VERDICT

‘There’s no stopping this little lady.’ Tennis-crowd-pleaser with a spin on gender politics.

Must-see hero of the jungle

Jane (PG)

★★★★★

ANGELINA JOLIE calls Jane Goodall a hero. ‘My children look up to Jane… as an example of a person fighting for all she believes in,’ she said at the premiere of this wondrous documentary about the now 83-year-old primatologist.

In 1957 Jane was a 26-year-old secretary from England sent to the African jungle by her boss, Dr Louis Leakey, to observe chimpanzees in the wild. She had, in her words, ‘no training, no degree, but an open mind, love of animals and monumental patience’.

Her painstaking study of chimps proved trailblazing. Drawn from 100 hours of lost footage beautifully shot by Jane’s husband, photographer Hugo van Lawick, and sublimely scored by Philip Glass, this inspiring, unsentimental portrait not only glows but is an empowering must-see every mother should take her daughter too — or vice versa.

Clooney’s lost in suburbia

Suburbicon (15)

★★✩✩✩

GEORGE CLOONEY directs (but doesn’t star in) an aborted Coen Brothers script that’s been gathering dust since the 1990s. Welcome to Suburbicon, a hyperreal 1950s all-American suburb. The arrival of the first ‘coloured’ family ruffles the white-picket-fence peace but their next-door neighbours barely notice.

Soon after the newcomers’ arrival, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his son (Noah Jupe), his wife (Julianne Moore) and her twin sister (also Moore) suffer what seems like a random home invasion.

A bizarre collision between the real-life case of the Myers family, who caused white riots when they moved into a Pennsylvania suburb in 1957, and a familiar Coen Brothers crime yarn of deceit, dark comedy and cartoon-like violence, this is a film whose two halves barely speak to each other. And Clooney leaves his black characters short-changed (we barely get to know them) despite his heavy-handed highlighting of US racial injustice. Only Oscar Isaac, a suspicious insurance claim investigator, comes out of this one smelling of roses.