Friday, November 19, 2021

King Richard

King Richard offers a different type of sports biopic with the focus not on the athlete, coach, or team, but on the father of a pair of promising young tennis players. The fairly conventional film showcases the unconventional path to tennis stardom Richard Williams (Will Smith) led his daughters Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) to while pissing off pretty much everyone in the tennis world.

Because of how early the film is set, ending on Venus' professional debut (which doesn't paint a flattering picture of her opponent Arantxa S√°nchez Vicario played by Marcela Zacarias), and how little the Williams sisters played in junior tennis, the younger Serena draws the short straw here and we don't get as much tennis as you may expect. What King Richard does offers is a character study of the often rigid Richard Williams and the environment that raised two tennis stars who would change the sport.

Since there isn't much in the way of tennis, the performances are needed to carry the sports film that isn't really a sports film. Smith gets the meatiest role here, showing off both Richard's hard edges and the concern and love for his daughters that held them to such high standards (while even scaring his neighbors). Aunjanue Ellis offers a couple of strong scenes as the girls' mother. She's at her best when standing up to her husband's boorishness. Jon Bernthal and Tony Goldwyn add some comic relief as coaches to the girls early on their career often flabbergasted by the decisions of their father.

There's a reason ESPN did a ten-part documentary on Michael Jordan and not Michael Jordan's father. We don't really get to know Venus or Serena any better during the film as the focus remains focused on their father. And despite the spotlight on him, Richard remains inscrutable, even to his family, for much of the film. The script does allow Will Smith to explore various aspects of Richard Williams often off-putting personality and frame the story of his daughters through a father's eyes. It's obvious Richard loved his daughters and did what he thought was best. But I don't know if the film ever really answers the question if Venus and Serena, as talented as they were at such a young age, found success because of Richard, or in spite of him?

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