A while ago some friends and I played a rousing game of “Battle of the Sexes.” We guessed the board game in the bar had certainly been bought in the late 80’s to early 90’s based on the pop-culture questions. But after a dozen minutes, it was evident that it was a lot more fun to poke fun at the aged sexism of the board game and its antiquated notion of which gender should specifically know what about certain topics. Even this board game, as time goes on, will become a relic of a bygone era of misguided misogyny and outdated gender constructs. But it certainly was a lot worse at one point.
In BATTLE OF THE SEXES, we’re taken back to the early 1970’s, a world with only a handful of female leaders in the workplace, politics and sports. One of those is the #1 female tennis player in the world, Billie Jean King (Stone). She boycotts the U.S. Open after learning about the incredibly wide pay discrepancy for first place ($12,000 to $1,500) and starts her own league, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). Despite those quick, huge strides forward for her and her female colleagues, her entrepreneurship earns her more scorn than respect.
On the flip side, Bobby Riggs (Carell), who was at one point considered the best in the world, has fallen into relative obscurity. He pushes papers at a desk job he hates and is longer in the limelight. One of the unknown aspects, at least for me, is that he’s a hustler. He always has been. We see him betting on every little thing, including a side bet at his gamblers anonymous meeting. While always metaphorically chasing the dragon, he conjures up an idea one night while watching King on TV. His lucrative idea is a primetime match, man vs. woman.
It’s interesting how BATTLE OF THE SEXES portrays the actual build-up to the match. On the surface, it’s a game between a feminist revolutionary and a chauvinistic pig. But in a lot of ways, Riggs played a hand in propping up the women’s tennis league. It brought a lot of attention the sport through hyping up his battle of the sexes tennis match, but his loss to King also gave some credence to the WTA. Now, not all of the credit should go to Riggs, but he’s certainly in the conversation. He didn’t truly believe his sexist filth he spewed; he just knew how to hustle a gullible American audience.
Of course the true trailblazing goes to King, for more reasons than one. BATTLE OF THE SEXES also tells the tale of King’s sexuality. In a lot of ways she was attacking social norms on multiple fronts. In that regard, BATTLE OF THE SEXES seems to be more about attacking social constructs in terms of the LGBT. Once King’s sexuality becomes the focal point, Riggs and the impending showdown seem to be put on the back burner, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Carell is magnetic and more of him wouldn’t have been the worst thing the movie could have done.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES works magnificently as a biographical dramedy. The script treats these real life figures with reverence by focusing on their home life and personalities. We see Riggs as a wannabe family man that struggles with addiction and we see King struggle to come to terms with a hidden passion that isn’t the tennis court. That flip of the script will certainly delight folks who grew up with the match and only remember it for the spectacle that it was. BATTLES OF THE SEXES adds an extra layer to a well-known sports story and makes it relevant within the scope of the 21st century.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 2:39:1) The intended grain was meant to add to the 70’s aesthetic, but concerns that it could take away from the picture clarity is unfounded. This is a gorgeous looking blu-ray.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1) Very rarely did I noticed jumps in volume between rambunctious crowds and hushed hotels room. The audio is impeccable.
Raw Footage: Billie Jean’s Grand Entrance (No Audio) (2:17): I’m unsure about the purpose of this feature other than to how much was real and how much was digitally added in. If that’s the intention, it would have benefitted from director or editor commentary.
Reigniting the Rivalry (18:52): There’s always a lot to unpack when it comes to biographical movies, whether big or small events. This feature does its best capturing a lot, in terms of several months, if not years, of history. It focuses on the film’s strengths, the humanity behind the characters and the revolutionary efforts by the women in the tennis community. This satisfies my historical itch, but it’d be interesting to see if it conjures memories for those who lived it.
Billie Jean King: In Her Own Words (10:30): The previous feature may act as a prelude to this outstanding interview. While she was mentioned in the previous feature, as well as scenes showing her interact with her on-screen persona, this feature really lets Billie Jean King recount history in her own words. This feature alone makes the blu-ray worthwhile for those who adored this film. Her words remain powerful and influential.