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“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” In the new film King Richard, starring Will Smith in the titular role of former tennis player and ultimate bleacher dad Richard Williams, director Reinaldo Marcus Green and writer Zach Baylin may have failed to plan for how people remember the real-life events of this bio-drama about Venus and Serena Williams’ rise to being the best tennis players in the world.
Unfortunately, this film tries too hard to change the existing perception of Richard Williams instead of focusing on an engaging story about the hardships the Williams sisters and their family experienced along the way.
Will Smith becomes King Richard in this tale of Venus’ – and to an extent Serena’s – ascension through their father’s undeniable ambition. It follows their struggles to overcome the racism that one could argue still exists in tennis today mixed with the economic and systemic barriers of living in Compton, CA while trying to break into a sport played primarily by the wealthy.
Smith, saddled in short shorts with a Ron Funches accent, is incredible in this film. He plays the role of Williams while walking the same fine line the man himself did between arrogance and brilliance. You eventually find yourself lost in his depiction of this character. The story does not shy away from events that portrays Williams at times as a narcissist who wants nothing more than a piece of his talented daughters’ spotlight.
However, it also presents him as a caring father with a 78-page plan who felt he had no choice but to be protective over his girls and their future. Whether it was an altercation with young ruffians while training at a local park or pressure to compete from an overzealous coach in Rick Macci — played incredibly by the talented Jon Bernthal — the real life events that play out in this movie try to convey how Williams had his children’s best interests in mind despite that not always seeming to be the case.
These real-life events, such as Jennifer Capriati’s arrest on drug charges, that are featured in the film assist the narrative about burnout among young athletes and Williams’ concerns about his daughters’ meteoric rise. Despite his relentless training that crossed a line at times and even seemed to pit the girls against each other, Williams strives to maintain a normal childhood for his children while also motivating them to reach the pinnacle of a sport that few can master.
With all due respect to both Smith and Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney in the role of Venus and Demi Singleton as Serena steal the show in this one. Their portrayal of these legendary young athletes is authentic and sincere. It didn’t matter if the girls were featured in a scene or if they were just being kids in the background, they created a sense of family and were a crucial reason why many scenes were so moving.
The film does focus too much on Richard and his antics. Obviously with Smith as the protagonist, the filmmakers wanted to highlight the superstar being the main attraction. But the actors playing the Williams sisters did an outstanding job and should have been featured more. Also, some critical events, such as the death of their sister Yetunde, were missing from the film despite the fact that the story seemed to be going in that direction at times.
Honorable mention to Aunjanue Ellis who played “Brandy” Price, Williams’ wife and the mother of Venus and Serena. Her on-screen chemistry with Smith is scintillating in some powerful scenes that featured the complicated parental relationship between Price and Williams.
The journey is uncomfortable at times but it is fulfilling in the end. It’s an inspiring tale of hard work, perseverance, and following a plan that seemed to be more detrimental than advantageous at times. However, much like the true story itself, this film centers too much on Richard and seems to look back on some of his actions through rose-colored glasses.
We give this film:
You can open up your stance and judge for yourself when King Richard debuts in theaters and on HBO Max this Friday.