Emma Stone and Steve Carell bring their A game to this crowd-pleaser based on the electrifying true story of the 1973 tennis match between women’s champion Billie Jean King (Stone) and former men’s champ Bobby Riggs (Carell). Filled with heart, humor and biting wit, Battle of the Sexes is a triumphant celebration of the historic contest that changed the game!
Given that 2017 proved to be the year that men were finally taken to task for the way many of them have treated women, it's kind of hard to believe that a movie as good as Battle of the Sexes didn't do better at the box office, nor is it getting much attention at the annual awards shows. Documenting the famous tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, a film that might have been just another "sports movie" turns out to have a lot to say about the sexual revolution, how far we've come, and how far we still need to go.
Emma Stone stars as Billie Jean King, and the movie begins at the apex of her career – she's the number one ranked women's tennis player in the world, but you wouldn't know it from her salary. King is upset that male players are getting paid so much more than their female counterparts, so when a tournament run by former tennis champion Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) offers the male winner a much larger sum than the female winner, King decides to pull out of the tournament and gets many of her fellow female tennis stars to do the same – forming the Virginia Slims tour to compete against Kramer's tournament. The result? Kramer threatens to have them all kicked out of the United States Tennis Association.
Bobby Riggs's (Steve Carell) career was long over by the early 1970s, but that didn't stop the compulsive gambler and lifelong hustler (who swore he bet on every match he ever played in) from continuing to try and stay in the limelight and win money any way he could. He'll even hold onto two dogs as his "handicap" while playing tennis to try and even the odds for the other player, yet still walk away a winner of their Rolls-Royce. When Bobby sees all the public fuss that is happening around Billie Jean protesting the USTA, he also sees an opportunity. Taking on the role of a "sexist pig" who "puts the 'show' in 'chauvinist'", Riggs challenges King to a one-on-one tennis match to determine which is the better sex. However, Billie Jean is well aware of Bobby's hustling history and declines his offer.
When Billie Jean loses to Australian Margret Court, Court surpasses her in the rankings to become the number one women's tennis player in the world. This results in Riggs turning his attention from King to Court, and Court accepts Riggs's challenge. The match takes place on Mother's Day of 1973, and Riggs annihilates her in two straight sets, leading the press to dub the match the "Mother's Day Massacre". The loss to Riggs by Court inspires King to accept his challenge, and the two agree to square off later that same year in the Houston Astrodome.
If Battle of the Sexes had focused simply on the tennis match, it would be a good – albeit probably forgettable – sports film. However, the movie (directed by the Little Miss Sunshine team of Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton) spends a lot of time showing how Billie Jean King came to terms with her own sexuality. Although married at the time, Billie Jean finds herself attracted to her hairdresser, Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), and the feeling is mutual. The chemistry between actresses Stone and Riseborough is one of the strong points of the film, and I particularly liked the way the movie dealt with how King's then-husband, Larry (Austin Stowell), learns about and deals with his wife's infidelity and sexual orientation.
I would be remiss if I also didn't single out Steve Carell's performance as Bobby Riggs. He takes what could have been a very one-note character and gives him some depth and dimension. Other movies would have made Riggs out to be the sexist antagonist of the story, but he's much more. He's a man trying to not lose his place in the spotlight while hoping to keep his marriage intact (his wife, Priscilla, is played by Elisabeth Shue), and although Carell does get to have a lot of fun with Riggs, there are moments of introspection as well that show just what a great actor Carell can be when given the right part.
I missed Battle of the Sexes during its theatrical run and wasn't particularly excited about it going into this review, but I'm sure glad I got the chance to see it. It's a wonderful film that's highly entertaining, yet still has plenty to say about equality, acceptance, and standing up for what you believe in. It's one of the more entertaining films from 2017.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Battle of the Sexes is served on home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The dual-layer DVD and 50GB Blu-ray discs come housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, along with a pair of inserts: one containing a code for a digital copy of the film, and the other offering 20% off a Tennis Channel Plus annual subscription. A slipcover with matching artwork slides overtop. Both the Blu-ray and DVD are front-loaded with trailers for Step, Gifted, and Goodbye Christopher Robin. The main menu consists of a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
Battle of the Sexes was shot on 35mm film using Arricam equipment. It is presented on home video in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. As far as the image here goes, it's important to note that the filmmakers wanted their movie to look like it was actually made in the 1970s. That's kind of cool, but it also means if you're looking for razor-sharp details and depth, there's not much to be found here.
The movie has a very 70's color palette, focusing on both primary colors (especially yellows) and pastels. While color reproduction is good, grain can also be heavy in spots, and some scenes are downright murky in appearance. Again, though, this is all intentional and is an accurate rendering of how the movie looked in theaters. I didn't pick up on any glitches with the image in terms of aliasing, banding, or the like, so while this image may not "wow" viewers the way other Blu-rays do, it's a proper transfer of the 35mm source (via a 2k digital intermediate master).
The featured audio on the Blu-ray disc is an English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. While the 7.1 capabilities of this track seems like overkill in a lot of the smaller, intimate scenes of the movie, it pays off in the bigger sequences – particularly in the big finale, where the noise of the crowd and the sounds of the tennis action provide a nicely immersive feel. There's also great use of 70's pop tunes in the movie, including Elton John's "Rocket Man", Tommy James & The Shondells' "Crimson and Clover", and George Harrison's "What is Life" that sound great in 7.1. Dialogue is primarily front and center and is crisp throughout. No glitches in the track were noticeable.
In addition to the English lossless track, a 5.1 English Descriptive Audio track is also available, as are Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in Spanish, French, Czech, Hindi, Hungarian, Polish, Thai, and Turkish, and a 5.1 DTS track in Russian. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, French, French (Quebec), Russian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.
Raw Footage: Billie Jean's Grand Entrance (HD 2:17) – This is raw footage (with no audio) of Emma Stone being carried into the Astrodome in the movie. Emma is brought in twice, the first time holding a camera, so footage from her perspective can be used in the movie. You'll also note the large green screens in the background for post-production digital insertion of the crowd.
Reigniting the Rivalry (HD 18:52) – This is a standard behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie, with comments from Directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton; Producers Christian Colson and Robert Graf; stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Alan Cumming, Sarah Silverman, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Fred Armisen, Eric Christian Olson, Andrea Riseborough, Martha MacIsaac, Natalie Morales, Jessica McNamee, and Bill Pullman; Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy; Cinematographer Linus Sandgren; Costume Designer Mary Zophres; Production Designer Judy Becker; and the real-life Billie Jean King and Lornie Kuhle.
Billie Jean King: In Her Own Words (HD 10:30) – This is a brand-new interview with King, during which she discusses the real-life events depicted in the movie.
Galleries – A pair of photo galleries, which can be watched as a slide show or maneuvered through manually using one's remote. These consist of a Unit Photography Gallery (HD 2:05) with 24 photos and a Set Design Gallery (HD 1:45) with 20 photos.
Battle of the Sexes serves (pardon the pun) not only as a commentary on equal rights and sexism, but also as a biopic for both Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Even beyond that, the film is simply a whole lot of fun. If you missed it in theaters (and most of you did), don't let it pass you by now that it's on home video. Highly Recommended.