In 1973, number one women’s tennis player Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) led a rebel tour of the US over a pay dispute, which – at least according to this dramatisation from LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE creators Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton – gave former men’s champion / relentless self-promoter and exhibitionist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) the brainwave of orchestrating a televised “challenge” event, exploiting the ‘battle of the sexes’ mood that was changing western culture at the time. For Riggs it was an opportunity to make money and grab attention, but for the then still closeted King, there was much, much more on the line.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES might be one of the most straightforward films you see this year – it’s The Hero(ine)’s Journey painted in simple, strong colours – but surprisingly, it’s no less enjoyable for it; there's something amusing in that lack of complexity cutting directly through to the righteousness of the argument – or at least, it making screamingly obvious the stupidity of the antagonists and theirs. It could have come off as smug and twee, but Faris & Dayton manage to avoid it. Are there problems? Sure: both Bill Pullman’s tennis boss Jack Kramer and Jessica McNamee’s Margaret Court aren’t always given enough depth to convince (although Court’s recent appearances on Australian television trumpeting her homophobia would suggest she really is one dimensional after all), and the directors could have made more of King’s own mistakes, however honest or unavoidable. Was turning Alan Cumming into a fairy godmother a good idea? Your mileage may vary. These flaws are more than made up for though, by a solid turn from Stone, and a magnificent one from Carell (one which may yet land him Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), clearly revelling in the demons and contradictions of Riggs private persona, while never making the larger than life public one too much of a caricature, nor an easy target.

The look of the film, from the spot-on set design to shooting on 35mm celluloid, works wonders in enveloping the audience in the period – as does, in between needle drops, Nicholas Britell’s near subliminal score. Even a parade of “hey it’s that guy” comic actors turning up in non-laugh bit parts which perhaps ought to serve as a distraction, doesn't - such is the film’s charm. Faris and Dayton have delivered a beguiling sports flick which, for Australian audiences especially, couldn’t be more timely.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES is released September 22nd in the US, September 28 in Australia and NZ, and November 24 in the UK.