To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, King Richard is a semibiographical sports drama film directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and stars Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, and Jon Bernthal. The story follows Richard Williams Jr., the father of famed tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, as he struggles to find a coach willing to teach his young girls for free as he believes they have the talent to become the greatest tennis players of all time and make a better life for their family.
The story of Venus and Serena Williams’ early life is not widely known. It feels as if they have always been the greatest tennis players of all time and this film helps expound on how that came to be. As the title suggests a lot of emphasis is put on their father Richard Williams Jr. With Venus and Serena being executive producers of this film, it makes sense that they would want to honor their father as he is the reason that they are where they are today. King Richard does a great job at showing the parenting style Richard had for his children. He is said many times throughout the film to be “hard on his kids” but at no point does the way he treats them feel abusive. A comparison can be made to the way Joe Jackson treated his children in his attempts to get them to fame. Both families are Jehovah’s Witnesses and both families have a lot of kids, but we’re as in most interpretations show Joe Jackson using physical discipline for his children, Richard on the other hand, has a plan that involves education and athleticism. He makes sure that they practice most days and makes sure their head stays in the books. This way they are not tempted to hang out on the streets doing things they aren’t supposed to.
Many times throughout the film Richard emphasizes how much he cares about education while also allowing his girls to enjoy being kids. He has seen what happens to the kids who grew up in Compton whose parents were not as attentive as well as the kids who grow up in the wealthier neighborhoods whose parents are overbearing. Richard seems to exist in the middle of that and his plan for the girls works out well. Likewise, the film does not stray away from the many faults Richard has. He is very stubborn and always hesitant to take advice from others even though he knows they are right.
Reinaldo Marcus Green does a great job directing this film as well as bringing out excellent performances from all of his actors. He does a great job balancing the sports aspect with the family aspect else whilst not forgetting that there is a Black element to this film that must be explored. Depicting how rough it is growing up in Compton where many families did not make it out. There is an excellent scene involving Richard and some local gang members that is the most thrilling yet terrifying scene in the film. It is at that moment that you realize not only Richard, but his daughters’ lives could’ve gone in a completely different direction. That is the kind of storytelling that makes this film stand out. It shows the realism of Compton in the 90s and how one wrong choice could ruin your life. There’s also the scene where Richard is telling Venus how the next step she’s taking in going pro is a big one not only for her but for every little Black girl on the planet. It is very emotional and hits home on a different level than the rest of her tennis matches throughout the film. I’m glad this film decided to cover these topics as well as being a sports drama.
The acting in the film is phenomenal. I cannot say much more about Will Smith’s performance as Richard other than that it was beautiful. He definitely deserves some Oscar consideration in the upcoming award season. While he does not disappear into the role as some actors do, he makes it his own. I can still see Will Smith on film but that is a good thing because I see how well Will Smith can act as opposed to Will Smith becoming someone else completely. When you see the comparative footage of Will and Richard it’s evident Will is doing a fantastic impersonation and that is saying something. Opposite Will Smith is Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene Price, the mother of Venus and Serena. Ellis is a stand-out. Any scene she’s in she steals and is as powerful as an actor as Smith. She plays off him very well and their marriage feels believable. Like normal parents they have disagreements but they both love their daughters and want them to be successful. She deserves some Oscar consideration as well.
Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton are great as Venus and Serena Williams respectively. As the film moves on it does start to focus a little more on Venus with her being the older Williams sister and therefore the first to go pro. This means the audience spends more time with Saniyya who does not disappoint. She delivers her lines with such emotion and elegance that makes her feel like a more veteran actor. However, Demi does get shine in the scenes that she shares with Saniyya and they play off each other as sisters should. Biopics don’t ever really get true sequels and rarely do actors return to play the same characters in different films. The only actors I can think of are Angela Bassett playing Betty Shabazz in Malcolm X and Panther and Jamal Woolard playing Christopher Wallace/The Notorious B.I.G. in Notorious and All Eyez on Me. However, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton could easily return to play Venus and Serena Williams in a future biopic focused specifically on the girls’ pro careers.
Jon Bernthal is also great as Rick Macci. His role is more substantial than I thought but it is crucial to the girls’ development as well as how the family gets out of Compton. This is a case where Bernthal disappears in the role as it is completely different than anything I’ve seen him do in the past. The accent he does to portray Macci is a bit nasally but it works well. There is still the seriousness in his eyes that Bernthal usually carries in his films but it is softer and more respectful than previously seen. He also does a good job wearing a mustache.
King Richard runs a little longer and could’ve easily shaved off 10-15 minutes to make it a tighter narrative. I do feel there is a time where the film starts to focus more on Venus than it should. It’s here the film has trouble finding its footing on whether wants to be a film about Venus and Serena or a film about their father. This time could’ve been used to explore more of the blended family dynamic as the film glosses over Richard and Oracene being married to other people previously. However, Richard remains the main focus for the majority of the film and it works on that front. It is also refreshing that the film does not cover Richard’s entire life. This is more of a modern take on the biographical film in that they can cover specific events of the main character’s life and still be a compelling rounded story. In the case of King Richard, we are focusing on how Richard finessed his daughters to the level of skill and fame that they enjoy today.
King Richard is an inciteful deep exploration into the early life and career of Venus and Serena Williams and how much their father played a part in their success. I give King Richard a Decent 8.5/10. This film is very well done and clearly a love letter to Richard Williams Jr. from his daughters who feel that he is not honored as much in their success as he should be. Thank you Richard Williams Jr. for giving Black women all around the world such aspirational role models.