King Richard

Will Smith explodes as the father who had his ways of training his daughters Venus and Serena Williams.

I don’t follow up on sports, so seeing “King Richard” was a riveting experience for me, about the true story of how Serena and Venus Williams survived the tennis world. Or better yet survive their father Richard Williams’ controversial ways, one of them resorted to him pulling Venus from the Junior Champions. He wasn’t an abusive parent; in fact, he was doing everything he could to make sure his girls weren’t full of vanity or bad decisions. He even had family and coaches trying to be the voice of reason for him, and yet, he went his way. Will Smith excels as Richard with his age, persistence, and vulnerabilities. In fact, it’s an Oscar-worthy performance for him.

Set in Compton, the movie shows him struggling to find the major tennis coaches to sponsor his girls, until he finds one by the name of Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), who can only train Venus (Saniyya Sidney), while Serena (Demi Singleton) is trained by her nurse mother Oracene Price (Aunjanue Ellis). When he pulls Venus from the Junior Championship, he’s forced to fire Paul, who disagree with his methods, as does his wife.

His methods include forcing all five of his daughters (in his marriage to Oracene to watch “Cinderella” in order to teach them how to be humble, even when they win matches. Another is when they get excited about winning, Richard decides to drop them at a store, and drive away, making them walk home, much to his wife’s chagrin. And even if an exclusive club member offers them free food, Richard says: “Nothing is free in this world.”

They can’t be spoiled and they can’t be pressured. They have to do their homework, go to church and school, and then comes the tennis training. Experiencing this for the first time, certain moments can be a bit much for me to handle, but it’s all under Smith’s acting and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s direction and Zach Baylin’s writing that executes the true story.

The next coach who sponsors the girls is Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), who is surprised by the Williams family’s condition. That they all go with him to Florida with a house and new jobs, and so forth. Of course, he agrees, and again, he gets aggravated by Richard’s decisions about the tournaments. He claims that they aren’t ready for the big leagues, but Venus knows she is.

“King Richard” shows us Richard’s controversial and effective methods of bringing the sisters to where they are today, and it also deals with how they learned to survive in their teens. Smith’s performance is wise and profound in the ways he eases into his character. Ellis is also outspoken and exceptional as his wife. Sidney as Venus and Singleton as Serena both have the passion and courageous nature as the sisters. And Goldwyn and Bernthal both offer some fine supporting work as the respective coaches.

There’s also a broad sense of humor when you least expect them, a lot of challenging moments, and the very nature about how pressure must be overshadowed by family and love. Granted, Richard’s methods weren’t always ideal, but his two daughters were able to overcome the obstacles.

Green continues to expand his horizons as a filmmaker, and works with Smith and Baylin on various levels. “King Richard” wins the tennis match.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

In Theaters and Streaming on HBO Max This Friday

Categories: Biography, Drama, Sport

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