January 2, 2018
Box Office $12.6 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some sexual content and partial nudity.
Stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Andrea Riseborough, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Natalie Morales.
The marketing materials for this high-profile sports film positioned it as a comedy, and it has been nominated as such in the corresponding categories for a slew of awards, including the Golden Globes.
But watching it yields one of those classic disconnects between expectations based on the trailers, and the film itself. While the film certainly has moments of levity, centered mostly on the performance of Steve Carell as aging tennis icon Bobby Riggs, whatever comedic elements come through are mostly due to how much of a farce the real-life event at the center of the story was, and how much Riggs acted like a clown trying to promote it.
Otherwise, the movie is mostly a straightforward biopic drama about tennis legend Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) discovering her sexuality while fighting to raise the stature of women’s tennis on the professional circuit
The key event of the title, of course, is the legendary 1973 exhibition match between 30-year-old King, at the time the world’s top female tennis player, and the 55-year-old Riggs, a ruthless self-promoter and gambling addict whose claim to fame was winning the three big titles (singles, doubles and mixed doubles) at Wimbledon in 1939, and who threw himself back into the spotlight by betting that even in his old age he could beat any top woman in the circuit.
And Riggs made good on his word, defeating Australian Margaret Court after King initially refused to play him and then stumbled in the rankings to push the Aussie star into the spotlight. In the aftermath of Court’s defeat and positioned to take on Riggs for the honor of all womanhood, King is portrayed as focused on practically nothing but training for her match with him, to the detriment of her regular tournament play, and relationships with her husband (Austin Stowell) and her lover (Andrea Riseborough).
Riggs, on the other hand, seems barely interested in the match at all, soaking up the publicity and sponsorship money in one long poolside party. It’s not until she starts to pull ahead of him in their match when he finally seems to care about the result, and I suppose it’s up to viewers to decide what lessons can be gleaned from the outcome following such a set-up, or if it does, in fact, support what many would infer as the obvious message of the film.
But these are fairly straightforward re-creations of historical events, and the film has a great look retro look about it, which has become something of a trend recently in period pieces. Where the film really shines is in conveying the idea that people should be true to themselves and accepting of others, and only then can societal barriers be torn down. It is here where the film has bigger fish to fry than the result of a highly publicized stunt.
Emma Stone disappears in the role, making it somewhat jarring to be reminded what the real King looked like when she turns up in archive footage in the bonus materials. She and Carell are captivating in their respective roles whenever they’re on screen pushing forward their separate storylines that eventually converge.
The Blu-ray includes an interesting behind-the-scenes featurette about the level of detail used by the filmmakers in re-creating the 1970s setting. They even brought on an old friend and coach of Riggs to train Carell to emulate Riggs’ playing style. The Blu-ray also includes an interview with the real-life King, plus raw footage of the filming of her entrance into the Astrodome for the big match.