Tuesday, November 16, 2021

King Richard - Review


It’s very easy to be skeptical, almost cynical, about King Richard. From one angle, the biopic during awards season is overplayed to the point of becoming a joke at this point. From another, to take the story of two of the most successful female athletes and focus on their father is certainly a bold choice. However, it’s a credit to director Reinaldo Marcus Green and actor Will Smith that the film makes its case for the questionable focal point. 

Armed with a clear vision and a brazen, 78-page plan, Richard Williams (Will Smith) is determined to write his two daughters, Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), into history. Training on tennis courts in Compton, Calif., Richard shapes the girls' unyielding commitment and keen intuition. Together, the Williams family defies seemingly insurmountable odds and the prevailing expectations laid before them.

Typically films such as King Richard smooth out out some of the rougher edges of the subject’s life. There is some of that at play here, as the determination of Richard Williams to push his daughters to be something great is mostly viewed as a noble endeavor, even in the face of some minor criticisms from outsiders. An aura of larger issues loom in the background, a steady beat of the underlying racist issues that the family undoubtedly faced on their rise through the tennis ranks. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green ensures that it never overtakes the film, but highlights the grace of the family in the face of prejudice and pressure. 

No one would claim this is a wholly original film. If you’ve seen one sports film ever, this one plays out very much as you’d expect. But the gentle touch of Green allows the heart and emotion to shine through, and the tennis itself become secondary to the journey he wants to take the audience on. At the center of the film is a man who just wants something more for his daughters than he had.

That man is played by none other than Will Smith. As Richard Williams, Smith reins in his usual confidence in lieu of something more difficult, keeping the slightest twinkle in his eye as he tries to charm his way into every country club and every coaching arrangement he can find. Smith transforms into this very nuanced performance, and it will surely earn him a lot of awards as the year continues.

Not to be outdone Smith’s counterparts. The two actresses playing the Williams sisters, Saniyya Sidney as Venus and Demi Singleton as Serena, have their own strengths and possess a certain bond that sells their sisterhood and subsequent success sans any form of jealousy. You also get Jon Bernthal as Rick Macci, who is impressive in a role that doesn’t require him to be the steely, stern actor we’ve seen so often. But the performance that rivals Smith is that of Aunjanue Ellis. As the endearing matriarch of the film, it would be so easy for Ellis to be placed in a role that’s quiet and ultimately fades into the background, but as Brandi, Ellis demands to be seen and heard, and won’t let anyone tell her that her role in this plan isn’t just as vital as Richards. 

In the end, King Richard doesn’t reinvent the wheel, for sports films or biopics. However, the final product is worthwhile because of its performances, particularly Will Smith, who will likely take home the Best Actor Oscar when the time comes, and the careful direction of Reinaldo Marcus Green. It’s a heart-warming and emotionally stirring film that’s bound to be a crowd favorite as the year comes to a close. 

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