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Soundtrack review: Battle of the sexes (Nicholas Britell – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Battle of the sexes (Nicholas Britell – 2017)

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“Battle of the Sexes” is a 2017 American biographical comedy-drama sports film directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by Simon Beaufoy. The plot is loosely based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The film stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell as King and Riggs, respectively, with Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell and Sarah Silverman in supporting roles. Being an avid fan of tennis I remember that match very well and besides I love all sports movies. It’s one of the two tennis based movies out in this period (the other being “Borg vs McEnroe”). What I love even more is that the score is written by Nicholas Britell who has the special distinction of having no score below 95% album excellence from all composers for me. He simply writes perfect scores.

The opening cue “Billie Jean King” is a short little gem of a solo piano theme that’s both emotional and stormy and shows me why I rank Nicholas’ Britell’s music so highly. The piano is used to describe Bobby Riggs as well only it’s more melancholic and waltz like and is added by the most subtle of soft percussions. I feel like I already know these characters only through a couple of minutes of simple and brilliant music.

And how about “Manhattan sunset”? Nicholas Britell paints a perfect image of 70’s New York through his suave melodies that speak of a simpler time. The music is just beautiful, pure orchestral goodness that evokes almost pastoral images with the piano, strings and percussion. He almost improvises at the piano and the music gives me the feeling of a normal life, of living day to day with the one I love, a feeling of internal piece and of being home. A piano tune like “Nighthawks” makes me think of the music of anyone from the Newman family who usually writes carefree yet meaningful cues. I also imagine listening to this music live in a bar lounge while having a lovely dinner and conversation.

The smooth jazzy goodness continues with “Dog tennis” which almost sounds like a satire. It’s not big band music per se but not far from it either. The score is funky, groovy, entertaining and oh so 70s in the sound; it’s as if Britell lived and breathed those years. Every now and then the funkiness stops and we get fairy tale dreamy themes like “Lavender oil” which is just the sweetest lullaby that drips magic. Then a stormy piano comes to blow the windows wide open in “One dollar – press conference” and this is maybe my favourite type of piano theme. I think this is the “competition” theme from this score as it recurs almost every time a confrontation scene happens. I love how it sounds as an inspirational anthem in “Radio interview”. I feel motivated and I feel all my love for sports stories bottled in a cue like this. This is what they should use in the introduction of every tournament final.

The piano then gets as lyrical and romantic as it can in “First kiss” which sounds almost like an echo. The piano keys are caressed more then pressed and once again with just this magnificent instrument the composer can evoke the tenderest of emotions. This is the same instrument that made my adrenaline pump before and yet now it just makes me feel love. it’s just another piece of the most wonderful and varied musical mosaic that Nicholas Britell designed in this score.

With “Battle of the sexes” Nicholas Britell once again mesmerises me and makes me long for more; his music is complex and emotional, varied and poignant and every single cue has a bit of magic in it. This is a magnificent piano based score, an album that should be enjoyed as a whole, a composition to be remembered. Even if I came into this expecting an exceptional score Nicholas Britell managed to give me more. He is one of my favourite composers and just adds to his fairy tale with every other cue he writes.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 61 / 61

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:
20th Century Fox Fanfare (Alfred Newman)
Billie Jean King
Bobby Riggs
Manhattan Sunset
Nighthawks
Dog Tennis
Lavender Oil
One Dollar – Press Conference
Radio Interview (Anthem)
First Kiss
Marilyn Joins the Tour
The Bra/ Court Loss
Bobby vs. Margaret
The Winner
Priscilla Leaves
Prelude to Battle of the Sexes
Battle of the Sexes – March
The Battle of the Sexes – Match Part 1
The Battle of the Sexes – Match Part 2
Victory
Finale
Postlude

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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