King Richard

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You’d think a sports biopic about tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams would frame them as the stars. That’s what makes King Richard so radical. The chronicle centers on their father and how he raised them to be champions. But the surprises don’t stop there. This is an engaging portrait of a difficult, even irascible man. He can be downright aggravating. Fiercely controlling, his choices occasionally hinder their advancement in the tennis world. However, the love and devotion he holds for his daughters are never in doubt. He’s a flawed hero.

As the title would suggest, Richard Williams is the centerpiece. He is a self-taught coach with a 78-page blueprint for his daughter’s success. He and his wife have raised their daughters since birth to excel. Venus’ (Saniyya Sidney) early rise takes the spotlight in the 2nd half. Serena’s (Demi Singleton) talent is somewhat less conspicuous by comparison. We know that would change. The drama features another career-defining performance from Will Smith. He’s been acting for three decades. We know he’s a good actor, but it’s nice to be reminded. I haven’t seen him disappear into a role so convincingly since The Pursuit of Happyness where he also portrayed a dedicated father. He received an Oscar nomination for that part, and it’s all but a foregone conclusion he will receive another.

As you can appreciate, he is a demanding authoritarian — an overly protective father if you will. There’s an inherent understanding of the racial dynamics. He must be this way, although the script rarely makes an explicit point of it. It’s 1995 and 14-year-old Venus Williams is being interviewed shortly after she turns professional. She emanates determination over her next opponent. Venus affirms, “I know I can beat her.” The reporter is incredulous, taken aback by her brazen courage. “You say it so easily,” he presses, “why?” Richard promptly interrupts the conference. He doesn’t want his daughter’s confidence diminished. His angry outburst tells us so much. The confrontation happened exactly the same in real life. I’ve seen the original video.

If anyone can stand up to his strong temperament, it’s his wife Oracene Price. Actress Aunjanue Ellis embodies the woman that radiates steely resolve. Oracene — who goes by Brandy — is a force of nature herself. At least one passionate outburst unleashed on her husband comes from years of frustration. “I stay here because of my girls,” she attests. “I stay here because I answer to something higher than Richard Williams. Because if I was staying here for you, I would have been gone a long time ago.” The declaration is so powerful I thought, “There’s your Oscar clip.” Brandy is a captivating individual. She has three daughters from a previous marriage and is a talented trainer in her own right. Also worthy of mention is Jon Bernthal as coach Rick Macci. His sweetly comic personality lightens the narrative. He is amusing and understandably exasperated by Richard’s somewhat bullying behavior.

The story of two black girls from Compton, California who became legendary tennis icons is an anomaly so compelling it demands a movie, more than one. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men) working from a screenplay by first-time screenwriter Zach Baylin, takes a specific section of their lives and details it brilliantly. The account is such a family-friendly flick, a wholesome audience-pleasing sentiment. King Richard entertains with fascinating characters and allows their mission to drive the feel-good narrative. It’s gratifying to see an uplifting — if simplified — idea promoted that hard work and perseverance pay off. Although I still contend that even if I practiced 24/7 during my teenaged life, I would have never achieved the level of athletic achievement that these girls did. Ah, but the story made me believe that I could.

11-2-21

3 Responses to “King Richard”

  1. You use the word ‘simplified,’ and I think that’s a pretty key word.

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen the reaction to the film from Venus and Serena’s stepsister Sabrina — if not for reading this article I would not have ever known the details King Richard leaves out. There seems to be a practical reason for that — as you say, the story focuses on a pretty specific point in their lives — but maybe it’s also an aesthetic one, and if that’s so — at what cost to the truth? The filmmakers seem to be going for a positive, life-affirming message here instead of committing to real drama.

    Unlike, say, the way some members of the Gucci family have negatively responded to Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, this pushback actually kind of bothers me. Sabrina claims she won’t even attend Richard’s funeral. That’s a bit of a grudge. So I can see how tonally it would create an issue for what the director and writers are trying to do.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can imagine anyone close to the actual people depicted are going to have issues with any “fact based” story. If everyone approves, it’s probably sanitized.

      I didn’t think Richard Willams seemed particularly likable actually. He did raise a couple of champions however. Some might call that a case of “the ends justify the means.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a very good story. Will Smiths’ character was so annoying, but he did his job. The success of Venus and Serena speaks for itself. They had a very loving family so that worked well. The mother was amazing. Her performance should be nominated for best supporting actress. 4 ⭐️

    Like

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