Review by Lila Funge
I have to admit that I went into this film with my guard up. I did not necessarily want to enjoy it at all, however, indie director Reinaldo Marcus Green stepped up to the challenge of a box-office biopic and truly delivered. As a woman, I was concerned and legitimately frustrated with the choice to focus on Serena and Venus Williams’ father rather than the tennis superstars themselves. Two young Black girls from Compton manage to become the best tennis players the world has ever seen, and when the time comes to make a film about them it ends up being about their dad? In order for me to not leave a scathing review of this film which included a rant about the importance of representation, King Richard would have to wow me. Green did not disappoint, and in fact, I left the film feeling inspired.
Before they were born, Venus and Serena’s father Richard Williams had already written a 78-page manifesto detailing every aspect of their future. From what languages they would learn, to the sports they would play, Richard had it all figured out. Despite the barriers he faced being a poor Black man in America, Richard achieved nearly every goal he laid out for them. King Richard is not just about about tennis, and in fact I’d argue it’s not meant to be. It’s about a father’s tenacious and oftentimes straining relationship with his daughter’s futures. Although marketed as a sports biopic, this film plays out as a tense family drama, refusing to shy away from even the darkest moments and missteps of Richard’s life.
This film’s likeableness is a testament to Will Smith’s acting skills. It has been years since I’ve seen a performance from Smith and been completely immersed in his character. He captures Williams’ headstrong attitude perfectly. Richard Williams is a real man, with real flaws and struggles and Smith doesn’t shy away from this. Instead, he welcomes them with open arms – and it shows. The same can be said for Jon Bernthal who stars as tennis coach Rick Macci. Most viewers can reflect themselves onto his character; while of course we don’t have millions of dollars and a country club, he reacts the way the rest of us would. When Williams decides to pull the girls from tournaments, it is Bernthal’s superb acting that brings the scene to a new level. Saniyya Sydney and Demi Singleton dazzle as Venus and Serena, however King Richard would not hold up Smith and Bernthal’s performances.
King Richard is nothing new. It doesn’t change the face of biopics or take any massive chances, but it’s raw and real. Green avoids big cheesy training montages and massive lead ups to the ‘big game’ and nor should he, that’s not what the film is about. This film is about one man’s drive against all odds to give his daughters a life he was never able to live himself. Will Smith reigns supreme as King Richard, an honest and heartfelt look into the making of champions. If you’re looking for a film to catch you off guard this November, you might just be surprised by King Richard.