King Richard, the biopic about Richard, Venus, and Serena Williams and family, is one of many Oscar contenders to launch in November.
The trick to sports films is that you need to have a nice mix of sports and comedy or drama. This film has the right mix as it tells the story of the Williams family. We see what Richard Williams (Will Smith) went through as he worked to make Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton) become the greatest tennis players in the world. For what it’s worth, he told Serena that she would become the greatest tennis player ever. Lo and behold, it came true. Richard’s coaching might be on the overbearing side but you won’t go far to find similar parents. However, it takes a Richard Williams to write a manifesto over seventy pages long.
The two sisters do not become what they become without the mix of Richard and Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis) raising them. Brandy’s parenting is way different than Richard but at the end of the day, the two want what is best for their daughters. For Richard, this means finding someone that will coach the girls and get them off the neglected tennis courts in Compton. They find the first coach, Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), before later turning to Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal). The whole coaching search comes with a bit of humor. This is the thing about watching King Richard–whether it’s intended to or not, there is a nice mix between comedy and drama. We experience both the highs and lows. No moment is more dramatic than late in the film during the climactic tennis match. Even though Venus loses the match, she still wins in the end!
Why is this film called King Richard when Venus and Serena are the superstars in the family? Richard pushed them when it came to the sport. He’s the one who dreamed–before they were born–that they would be the greatest tennis players in the world. Meanwhile, Oracene was right there with them even if her tactics were different and might not get the same credit. Both would work a decent amount to make sure their family was fed. When Venus and Serena were practicing, sisters Isha (Daniele Lawson), Lyndrea (Layla Crawford), and Tunde (Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew) were picking up the tennis balls. When Paul Cohen could only coach one, Brandy was off training the other. However, this film is not just a Will Smith spotlight. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton might not be superstars right now but they both deliver a star-making performance in King Richard.
To tell the family’s story, you have to find the right moment in time. It’s not easy finding the right moment when it comes to these sisters. To get an idea of how much their father pushed them, it means going to an earlier point in time before they had a career. Screenwriter Zach Baylin does so during their final years in Compton before leaving to train with Rick Macci in Florida. Of course, the climax comes with Venus’s first professional tournament but the stakes could not be higher. The film squeezes the time span into just over two hours but the brisk editing works to the film’s credit.
The prosthetics might transform Will Smith into Richard Williams but there’s more to the film than this. They go above and beyond in taking us back in time to the 1990s in terms of production and costume design.
When it comes to the story being told, Isha Price is on board as an executive producer to make sure that it’s entirely authentic. Believe me, the idea of a father writing an almost-80-page plan is stranger-than-fiction but it’s still true. Without the family giving their approval and playing a role in shaping the story, it just wouldn’t be the same film. The film might be called King Richard but Oracene is every bit an important player in their lives, too. Will Smith might be getting the big awards push but don’t ignore Aunjanue Ellis in terms of awards contention.
While I might not watch tennis as much as other sports, I recognize the amount of skill that goes into hitting the ball across the net. I attended tennis camp once upon a time so those are my credentials. You don’t need to be a big tennis fan to still enjoy the film. Think of it as a family drama that just happens to have a solid amount of tennis.
DIRECTOR: Reinaldo Marcus Green
SCREENWRITER: Zach Baylin
CAST: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, with Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal
Warner Bros. releases King Richard in theaters and HBO Max on November 19, 2021.
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