A pushy tennis dad or a man on a mission? Or both? You can be the judge with Reinaldo Marcus Green’s biopic King Richard. The film follows Richard Williams’ (Will Smith) journey to bring child tennis prodigies Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton) to the world stage.
The focus of the film is Richard’s personality; and it spotlights Venus significantly more than Serena. It sets out the family dynamic, which centres around education and respect. Richard had a tough upbringing, during which he was beaten up. And he continues to be while training his young daughters. His wife and the girls’ mother Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis) works as a nurse, while Richard is a night security guard. By day he coaches Venus and Serena. It becomes clear that they need professional coaching. But with five daughters to feed, the family don’t have the money. Nevertheless, Richard is nothing if not persistent. He prints brochures about the girls and hands them around at every opportunity. Richard is also stubborn, and more than once Oracene has to pull him into line.
King Richard charts Venus’ rise until she meets then world number one Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in a junior tournament when Venus is only 14. It is a compelling and engaging biopic, filled with drama, pathos and good humour. The script is by first time feature film writer Zach Baylin. The film goes to great lengths to highlight strong family values and paints all five daughters as respectful and good people.
Will Smith is excellent in the lead, playing up Richard’s eccentricities. Smith portrays him as a flawed hero, who sometimes goes too far and yet remains true to his end goal. As his wife, Aunjanue Ellis (Lovecraft Country) has a smaller role as the voice of reason.
The film paints a stark contrast between the haves and have-nots in the tennis world. Sharks – coaches, agents and sponsors – are circling, all looking to cash in. Importantly, you don’t need to understand tennis to appreciate King Richard. It’s a film with broad appeal. As someone who likes sport of all sorts, the movie reveals a lot I didn’t know beforehand, which is exactly what I was after. King Richard is well worth seeing.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.