Director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s ‘King Richard’ is an unusual, inspirational sports drama. Designed as a hagiography, it is the tale of an ambitious father who had planned the career of his daughters even before they were born.
Centred around their father, Richard Williams, the film aims at telling the story behind the meteoric success of two of the greatest professional tennis players of all time – Venus and Serena Williams.
Richard has a plan. He and his wife Oracene aka ‘Brandy’ (Aunjanue Ellis) will add two more children to their family, and those children will grow up to be tennis prodigies. And he does everything the girls need to transform from being prodigies to becoming professional players.
Armed with a clear vision and a 78-page plan, Richard is a dedicated, hard-working dreamer, eccentric at times, determined to write his daughters into history.
Working as a security guard at night and relentlessly training his daughters during the day on the cracked and leaf-littered surfaces of Compton, California municipal courts, making his daughters achieve their maximum potential, instilling in them immense confidence and a never-say-die attitude, and later strategising their career moves, forms the crux of the narrative.
The script by Zach Baylin is formulaic in glorifying Richard. He is hardworking, has a plan which he repeatedly tells others, gets beaten by local gangs, studies tennis magazines and instructors, and tries to get his girls formal training from professionals while holding them back to his demands.
Some moments shine, specifically the one when, after showing his daughters the film ‘Cinderella’, he asks them: “What did you learn from Cinderella?”
Will Smith essays the role of the flamboyant, often outspoken, at times boorish Richard Williams with ease. If you have ever seen the real-life ‘King Richard’, during his famous interviews and press tours, you can easily understand the hard work and detailing Will Smith has put behind his portrayal of the famous dad-cum-coach, especially of his mannerisms and posture.
Will excels as the worried, over-protective and vulnerable dad who will stop at nothing to shield his talented daughters from the perils and pitfalls of stardom and celebrity.
Saniyya Sidney as Venus and Demi Singleton as Serena are a delight on screen. They both bring an easy uncomplicated innocence to their depiction of the girls the Williams sisters have always maintained they are. Moreover, their tennis skills, particularly their ability to match the Williams sisters’ style of play, are impressive.
Aunjanue Ellis, as Oracene, the girls’ headstrong and equally supportive mother, holds her stead against a charming and dominating Will Smith. She is a much more interesting character, but unfortunately her role is shortchanged by the script.
Jon Bernthal also shines in a supporting role, as the eccentric and loud-mouthed real-life coach, Rick Macci.
Overall, ‘King Richard’ is a fitfully entertaining and intermittently feel-good film that reinforces the belief, “Daddy knows best”, even as it portrays a lesser-known part of the Williams sisters’ lives.
Film: King Richard
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew, Daniele Lawson, Layla Crawford, Erika Ringor, Noah Bean, Craig Tate, Dylan McDermott, Live Schreiber and Susie Abromeit
Duration: 146 minutes
–By Troy Ribeiro