King Richard (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – A look at how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams.

My Take – I think we all have heard of Venus and Serena Williams, two excellent tennis players, who like very few of their fellow sportsmen/women around the globe have managed to transcend above the sports form they represent by earning themselves not just loyal fan bases who love and adore them, but by also garnering the attention and respect of people who aren’t even into tennis.

And while the story of the sister’s persevere, thrive, and succession truly deserves a feature treatment, this biopic isn’t exactly focused on the world-renowned tennis players, but instead offers a never-before-seen glimpse of Richard Williams, the larger-than-life father and coach of Venus and Serena Williams.

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men) from a screenplay by Zach Baylin (Creed III), here, the film aims to redresses the Richard’s showboating self-promoter image with a more sympathetic portrait in the form of a feel-good, predictable but charming and entertaining sports films that also highlights the hardships the Williams family faced simply for being a Black family in a white-dominated sport.

Sure, the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, doesn’t take any wild swings, and often feels like a sanitized version of the real story, but bolstered by a solid performance by a grizzled Will Smith, who combines charm, charisma, and a few less likable qualities to bring this complicated and at times inscrutable man to life, the film is happy to deliver a solid crowd-pleaser that manages to lift spirits and leaves us with lessons for the victories and defeats, no matter how big or small.

Set in the early 1990s, the story follows Richard Williams (Will Smith), a security guard by night and tennis coach by day to his daughters, Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), two of five sisters in the Williams household. Before the girls were born, Richard wrote a 78-page manifesto about making them champions and role models for a generation of Black girls. Now he just has to find someone to believe in them as much he and his wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis) do while also dealing with local criminals and racist neighbors.

Wasting no time, Richard pitches their talent to notable names in the tennis industry in a bid to get the girls coaches for free, as the Compton-based family can’t afford the outrageous fees and equipment that wealthy rich white families can so easily spend on.

And while their first break comes in the form of John McEnroe coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), who agrees to coach only Venus, but the real challenge begins when Richard cuts a deal with super coach/trainer Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) to take on both girls and cover the families living arrangements in Florida so they can finally put the girls under the spotlight.

As one would expect, the film explores the ups and downs that led to Venus and Serena’s future success. The best part is, even if you don’t follow tennis, the inspiring story is bound to enthuse sports fans and non-sports fans alike. The story strikes right at the heart of parents who sacrifice everything to ensure that their children are afforded the opportunity to thrive, who tirelessly strive to help them rise above poverty and adversity.

The film positions Richard as a man refusing to be hemmed in, refusing to know his place, refusing to fall into the hands of those that might want him and his family to fail. He is determined to climb out of Compton. And most surprisingly, the film isn’t afraid to question Williams’ motives either.

There’s no doubt Richard projected his hopes and dreams onto the girls, but when he pulls them off the junior tournament circuit in favor of a less traditional path, one wonders if it’s to stop the duo from burning out or because he’s worried the exposure will drive them away. The even-handed screenplay argues both sides, then lets the audience decide.

Unlike most sports biopics, the film also never lingered too long on any period of time. It keeps a steady pace as the story unfolds, moving the audience towards the finish line in the process.

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green, and cinematographer Robert Elswit, smartly utilized clever transitions to keep the film fresh each time we jumped ahead in these early years of Venus and Serena’s career. As a whole, this film utilized a lot of beautiful shots, both in the quiet moments and during the heart-pumping tennis matches.

Yes, the film doesn’t fully go into the dynamics shared by the Williams, and only referencing to Richard’s affairs and children outside his marriage, something which makes it tonally conflicted at times. Unsurprising, considering how the film is a version of events approved by the real-life Williams family and has both Venus and Serena Williams as executive producers. Thankfully, it never stops the film from being enjoyable.

Performance wise, Will Smith is excellent, fully inhabiting the character in one of the only roles to date that has required him to fully shed his habitual gloss of movie star charm. Smith captures the swagger and bravado when Richard is in salesman mode, but he’s even better when suggesting the fear that underpinned the patriarch’s actions; fear of being disrespected, fear of being made to look like a fool, and ultimately, fear of being wrong.

Smith has been nominated twice for an Academy Award, but this performance could very easily earn him his first win. His emotional depths carry the entire plot and his performance keeps you fully engrossed in the story.

Matching scene to scene with Smith is Aunjanue Ellis, who is especially outstanding in the scenes where Brandi is calling Richard out, for both his ego and his infidelity. It also helps that Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton can play as well as they act. Both actresses light up the screen and make you believe in their bond as much as their talent.

In supporting roles, Jon Bernthal and Tony Goldwyn are terrific, while Dylan McDermott, Andy Bean and Kevin Dunn make for interesting cameos. On the whole, ‘King Richard’ is a solid, entertaining and well-acted biopic that deserves all the Oscar-buzz.

Directed –

Starring – Will Smith, Jon Bernthal, Tony Goldwyn

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 144 minutes

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