By Mr. Will Wong
Make no mistake, KING RICHARD isn’t just a Tennis movie. Carried by a formidable performance from Will Smith as Richard Williams, father and coach to eventual Tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams, the Drama from Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men) is filled with heart and surely is a force to be reckoned with as we enter Awards Season.
The Film traces Richard Williams‘ hustle, balancing raising five daughters together with wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis) in Compton – where danger lurks in plain view – together with coaching Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton). They hope for their big break in the world of Tennis. Richard is unwavering in his belief in his daughters, but how do they overcome the obstacle of finding a professional-caliber coach who can propel them onto the right path to fulfilling their potential? This isn’t an easy feat being from Compton and Tennis is an expensive sport.
Richard pursues Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) who coaches the likes of John McEnroe and Pete Sampras. And from here Venus begins her foray into the Juniors tournament circuit, while Serena must wait in the wings. Then Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) enters the picture, already having guided another young star in Jennifer Capriati, to international stardom as a #1-ranked player. The Film examines the blurred lines of what it means to have a dream for your child(ren) and the costs of being uncompromising and perhaps over-protective of that vision.
While the wins pile-up for Venus, the Film rises above the mold of the typical Sports Drama. The focus isn’t all the amazing things the Williams Sisters accomplished, and thankfully so, as their successes speak for themselves. Instead, the Film places its weight on the true battle the family overcame – not coming from a place of privilege and securing that coveted chance to be alongside the best in the world through pure persistence. It looks at how doing so meant paving the way for many others who didn’t feel seen in the sport. This is the true victory of the Film, not willing Wimbledon or a Grand Slam. It is filled with heart and affecting moments without relying on typical tear-rendering mechanisms.
What I found unique about KING RICHARD is Writer Zach Baylin and Green‘s graceful and sympathetic treatment of defeat. They understand that humility and overcoming adversity are just as important as whatever training regimen an athlete is placed on. That being said, Robert Elswit gets the tall order of capturing and replicating some truly some truly riveting moments, and while we’re watching a burgeoning Tennis star just beginning to witness her own greatness, we feel deeply-invested, getting the assignment of what’s at stake for her and her family all the way. You don’t need to be a Tennis fan to be affected by this story.
The Film features a Trifecta of superb performances, led by Smith, who has never been better and we love that this portrait of Richard Williams isn’t easy on him. Yes, he is tough on his children. Yes, he is overbearing, but it is with purpose and love. The Film ensures we understand just how complicated this love is. Ellis is just mesmerizing and navigates Oracene’s important role as these girls’ mother, while trying to assert herself alongside a husband who has an incredibly imposing presence. The biggest revelation perhaps is Bernthal as Macci, completely unrecognizable as he disappears under the energetic coach’s mannerisms. These are characters we won’t soon forget, and we would be terribly amiss not calling-out the fantastic work from talented young stars Sidney and Singleton who captivate us from the first moment they appear. While they are convincing in the athletic demands of the role, we never forget that they are just kids having fun.
KING RICHARD has us completely re-thinking the Sports Drama genre, just like the Williams Sisters did to the world of Tennis, and we see lots of recognition coming ahead.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release KING RICHARD in theatres November 19, 2021.
*Please exercise caution observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in theatre*
For advertising opportunites please contact firstname.lastname@example.org