King Richard
Picture of Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Will Smith delivers a royal Award worthy performance as King Richard

Will Smith makes a stunning return to the world of biopics in Warner Bros. Pictures, King Richard. Reinaldo Marcus Green directs the film from a script by Zach Baylin. Armed with a clear vision and a brazen 78-page plan, Richard Williams (Will Smith) is determined to write his daughters, Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), into history as world-renowned tennis players. Training on Compton, California’s neglected tennis courts–rain or shine–the girls are shaped by their father’s unyielding commitment and their mother’s balanced perspective and keen intuition, defying the seemingly insurmountable odds and prevailing expectations laid before them.

 

One of my favorite genres of film is the biopic. Per my normal routine, when I know very little about the subject of a biopic, I like to walk in blind and then go back to do additional research. Thus, I purposely avoided reading the 2017 Richard Williams autobiography, Black and White: The Way I See It.  Since the Williams sisters are widely regarded as two of the greatest tennis players of all time, one has to wonder why a studio did not choose to focus on their rivalry as a centerpiece for a film. The answer is the sisters, who have an executive producing credit on the film, wanted to highlight their father instead.

 

King Richard introduces us to Richard in early 1990 as he gathers tennis balls for his girls and attempts to sell the plan he has laid out for his daughters and their career to possible investors. From the moment Smith utters his first line as Richard, the whispers of Smith as an Oscar front-runner receive validation. While Smith has portrayed real life figures before, there is something different about his portrayal of a legendary sports dad. 

 

Yes, Smith uses his natural charm in the role, however at the age of 53, Smith shies away from uttering his catchphrase “Oh hell no” and adds layers to a determined father. First time writer Zach Baylin avoids the trappings of Richard’s antics that filled the press as the Williams’ rose to prominence. 

 

In another actor’s hands, this angle may not have come to full fruition the way Smith sells it. Case in point, are Smith’s scenes with legendary coaches Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal). Cohen and Bernthal know tennis, but Richard knows his daughters. 

Reinaldo Marcus Green handles the scenes with organic grace from a direction standpoint.  

 

While King Richard is primarily the Will Smith show, not to be outdone is Aunjanue Ellis as the girl’s mother Oracene ‘Brandy’ Williams. Ellis, who was unjustly not recognized for her performance in last year’s Clark sisters biopic, is on fire here.  The script initially paints her as a typical understanding wife and mother, but then it gives Ellis two big moments that should put her in awards talks as well.

 

In the roles of pre-fame Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), they are both good as well.  While we do get to see the girls in action when it comes to tennis, the script and director do not overdo the phenom aspect. Instead, we see the beginnings of a story we already know the ending to. While Venus is given more of the showier role, both young actresses are great in their individual roles. Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal also deliver solid supporting work.

 

King Richard clocks in at nearly 2 ½ hours, so some viewers may be put off by that, however stick with the film and watch the magic unfold. I also commend the director and writer for avoiding an overabundance of setbacks that biopics of this nature typically fall into. While I am sure there were issues of racial jokes and financial issues the Williams family had to deal, the film does not showcase any of that, choosing instead to focus on Richards achieving the plan for his girls.

 

If I had, one complaint about the film is that it will not become the massive box office hit that it deserves to be. As you know, King Richard is being released on HBO MAX the same day it hits theaters. While I do understand that we are still in a pandemic, Warner Bros has a crowd-pleasing hit on their hands similar to Hidden Figures and The Blind Side that should be seen on the Big Screen.

 

Featuring two award worthy performances and an inspirational story, King Richard is highly recommended.

 

Final Grade: A –


King Richard opens in theaters on November 19th. In addition the film will be available to stream on HBO MAX

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