The names Serena and Venus Williams have become synonymous with tennis and excellence. They both have won multiple Olympic Gold Medals on top of their long list of championship trophies and numerous brand endorsements. The accolades they’ve received are common knowledge to just about anyone who’s turned on a television in the past twenty years. But Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard gets to the core of what makes the Williams sisters so special: they’ve been supported by their family from day one on the court. The movie about their rise to become champions could easily become your typical highlight reel sports biopic, but the film is a study of the family the tennis queens were raised by.
King Richard doesn’t ask that you love tennis, or know or understand these sisters’ biography by heart. It’s a magnetic and moving family drama that has a strong emotional pull that rolls over the audience like a smooth wave. It’s a rare “based on a true story” fall release that isn’t wholly wrapped up with impersonation and stiff roping in of fun-fact dialogue. It lives and breathes the story of Serena (Demi Singleton) and Venus (Saniyya Sidney) Williams’ beginnings on the tennis court in the ‘90s and the family environment that cultivated their blindingly bright futures – particularly driven by their father, Richard Williams (Will Smith). King Richard is an unusual contemporary drama that has the makings of becoming a classic. It’s the kind of movie one might turn on every time they want to be reminded of the empowering feeling it achieves by the end.
King Richard offers a beautiful and layered portrait of how Venus And Serena Williams grew up to become legends.
There’s many ways one could have approached the epic lives of Venus and Serena Williams. Their adulthood in the spotlight as they’ve racked up success after success may have been the obvious access point, but King Richard tells the story from the perspective of their father and coach. This approach should not work, but while it may take away focus from these talented women’s accomplishments, it only strengthens the foundation as to how we understand these tennis champions.
All of us have something we were passionate about as kids. It was either encouraged by your family, abhorred, or ignored. For Venus and Serena, of course, it was tennis – but as the movie shows, Richard Williams not only encouraged their gifts, but promoted real practice, a distinct plan and supervised the cultivation of their talents with his warm embrace of fatherhood. It’s incredibly entertaining to see Will Smith take on this unique role that isn’t the kind of father often given the spotlight on screen.
King Richard doesn’t place Venus and Serena’s father on a pedestal either. It explores this story with empathy, and the kind of layered love that feels like someone’s own memory of their parent. Venus, Serena and one of their other sisters, Isha Price, executive produced the movie, and their handprints act as a warm hug around it.
Will Smith delivers his best performance since The Pursuit of Happyness.
Following a number of years of very commercial Will Smith movies, such as Bad Boys For Life, Aladdin and Gemini Man, the actor steps out of his comfort zone as Richard Williams. In King Richard, Smith plays the opposite of an all-powerful or super slick leading man; he’s an awkward, disheveled, often misunderstood one. Early in the film, he gets knocked down and beaten by teenagers in front of his children. He’s rarely eloquent. Richard Williams is quite the opposite of what we know from Smith.
As the actor has said before, he’s devoted much of his career to being a “superhero” that depicts Black excellence alongside his white counterparts. With King Richard, he allows himself to be flawed and unsophisticated in a role and the results prove to be a mesmerizing experiment for him.
Although you’re aware and in awe of his performance (because he’s one of the most recognizable actors in Hollywood, and that stays with you), above all else this is an all-time great Will Smith performance. It’s great in the way that The Pursuit of Happyness was, but also in a completely different way. He’s not using his old tricks to tell new stories. The actor takes the role in another direction than you’d expect. The bold swings work whilst still delivering the kind of magic that has established his stellar reputation as a star.
The unconventional structure of King Richard helps it stand apart from other biopics.
Most of all, King Richard is patient. It’s not easy for a movie about a real person, never mind two famous tennis athletes, to take its time to develop a bond with an audience, but between Zach Baylin’s fantastic script, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s direction, and a number of memorable performances, the movie manages to both sit with you and hold your attention. Sure, it has the all-too-familiar inspiring energy one would expect from a movie of this subject matter, but the pacing – dedicated to staying focused on Serena and Venus’ upbringing at a specific time – and the honing in on certain elements of their relationship with the sport and their family are confident and deliberate. And leaves you wanting to follow the Williams’ achievements for a lifetime.
King Richard is a movie that leaves one blown away by Serena and Venus Williams as you’d expect, but even more than that, the movie deliberates a memorable message about how powerful upbringing is to creating good people and success. It’s a cathartic experience about the weight of being protected and truly loved and respected by a parent. So often we are fed stories about successful people who were broken down, forced and/or hardened by their passion or profession. King Richard is a beautiful example demonstrating that confident and balanced diligence can create world champions.