Serena and Venus Williams are two of the greatest tennis players of all time. However, it was quite the uphill battle to get where they are now. “King Richard” explores how their father, Richard Williams, helped them on their journey to success. Through his unorthodox methods and his relentless pushing, he helped make sure his daughters could be the tennis stars of his dreams. Starring Oscar nominated Will Smith, this is a run of the mill predictable sports biopic that follows the Williams sisters from childhood to championship, but through their father’s eyes. It was not a particularly inventive film but having it be told from the point of view of the athletes’ father was a fun twist. I was entertained by this film and it deserves the six Oscar nominations that it received.
It is the early 1990s in Compton, California. Richard Williams (Smith) and his wife Brandy (Aunjanie Ellis) are raising their two daughters, Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), along with Brandy’s three daughters from a previous marriage. Before they were even born, Richard has had dreams of his two daughters becoming tennis stars and he has crafted a plan to accomplish that goal. The family can not afford fancy tennis lessons, so Richard and Brandy have to coach the girls on their own time. He records the girls and shows them off to professional coaches in the hopes that they will be coached. Venus is the one that is scouted by top coaches, while Serena has to work harder to reach her sister’s level. Richard decides they will skip the juniors tennis circuit, as he thinks it is too much pressure for young girls. The family then moves to Florida where the girls can be coached by Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) for the next couple of years before they go pro. With his domineering personality, Richard Williams gains an unfavorable reputation in the young tennis world and Venus and Serena have to do what he says. They soon realize if they want to make it to the big time, they have to make some of their own choices and achieve their own dreams, with only a little help from their father.
What makes the film stand out is the performances. Will Smith carried the film as Richard Williams and dominated every scene he was in. He had to stand up to gang members while his daughters practice and stand up to tennis coaches who had methods against his beliefs and Smith owned these scenes. Smith portrayed anger and toughness in how he acted, and he transformed into Richard Williams. He yelled, gave impassioned monologues and was expressive in displaying how much his plan meant to him. No one would mess with Richard, and Smith was the face of toughness. There were layers to this performance and Will Smith deserved his Oscar nomination. The other Oscar nominee of this film is Aunjanie Ellis as Brandy, Richard’s wife and Serena and Venus’s mother. She was a strong woman who always thought about the people around her. Ellis showed how this character is more than a typical wet blanket wife by conveying that she had goals and that she was the one making sure her children were happy. Ellis always had a look of determination on her face and she never wavered, and Ellis proved why Brandy was important to this story. When she was yelling at Richard, you believed every word of her passion. Ellis had a voice that made people listen and her voice was filled with emotions, such as anger, sadness and hope. Brandy is a strong woman and Ellis expressed how strong she can be. I also appreciated Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton’s performances as Venus and Serena respectively. They were understated parts, but they revealed what childhood was like for two legends. They showed what it was like to grow up in a poor household, compete against other tennis players and stand up to their father. Sidney shined at the climax where she is playing her first junior grand slam and had to be in the zone. Seeing her crying from the intensity while trying to stay perfectly in the zone made it seem like the stakes were real for her. Singleton shined in a scene where she talked to her father about why Venus was getting all the attention and she felt left out. She exhibited hope and sadness all at once and her eyes revealed she wanted success more than anything. She expressed fear that she was never going to do as well as her sister. This scene shined a light on the harsh world of being an athlete and competing with a sibling. Sidney and Singleton portrayed two girls that put their blood, sweat and tears into everything and they demonstrated looks of determination in every scene. They revealed how tough it is to be a child athlete with Richard Williams as a father.
While I liked this film and found it to be a fascinating character study, I did not think it was the most exciting film. There was a certain formula found in this film that is found in most biopics. It is the classic rags to riches story where people go from nothing to everything. While the subjects are what make the film interesting, I feel like I have seen similar films before. Films like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Theory of Everything” show the straightforward lives of real people and we all know the people at the center of these films become successful, so everything will work out in the end. If it hadn’t, the film would have never been made. This formula makes this film predictable. We all know that the Williams sisters are going to be icons. In order to watch these films, I have to remember that it is about the journey, not the destination. While this is not the most creative film, there was some uniqueness to it to separate it slightly from the biopic formula. The creative choice for this story was to put it in the perspective of the Williams sisters’ father instead of themselves. It provided extra details about problems in his life, such as gang violence, and disclosed extra background for how they were raised. If it was through Serena and Venus’s point of views, it probably would not have been that captivating of a film. The real Richard Williams has a reputation of being a mean person that was not a likable coach in the tennis circuit. This film portrayed that side and even though it is possible the film went easy on him, the audience saw an interesting point of view from someone who is not exactly a hero. It followed the biopic formula, but that formula was elevated. There could have been something more to make this film more unique, but I like the creative choices that were implemented.
This film came out in theaters in late 2021, but it was made available for at home audiences on HBO Max on March 24 of this year. And on March 27, audiences will find out if it will take home any Oscars. There’s a high chance that Will Smith will win Best Actor for his role in this movie. Even though he would not be my top choice to win, the win would still be well deserved. If you want to see an underdog sports film with a different outlook, or you want to know about some of the greatest players in the history of tennis, watch “King Richard” today.