Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and written by Zach Baylin, a look at how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams. Starring: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew, Daniele Lawson and Layla Crawford.
Before you dive into anything about this film, it has to be acknowledged that you could absolutely never go wrong with this story. The iconic rise of the Williams sisters is cinematic gold, you couldn’t write it better if you made it up. It raises the question of how much credit can really go to the filmmakers over the Williams family, for their accomplishments and triumph making for such brilliant material. Regardless of that question, what unfolds in King Richard is funny, inspiring and utterly captivating. It fits perfectly into the sports films hall of fame, the only surprising element is how the focus shifts more singularly onto Venus (Sidney) in the latter half. It builds the touching sisterly bond between her and Serena (Singleton) early on, but then seems to push that aside as it progresses, which is a shame because it’s lovely to watch. However, it thankfully doesn’t try to overly focus on their humble beginnings, it’s not about pushing a cheap line on poverty, it’s how immensely hard this family worked to create opportunities for themselves.
It also provides a character type which is still fairly sparse in cinema, a Black mother who’s portrayed as strong, smart, devoted and not undermined by stereotypical storylines of drugs, violence, money, sex or overt drama. A character brought to life brilliantly by Aunjanue Ellis, portraying her with patience, fierce loyalty and an immense love for her daughters. She’s the ideal counterpart to Will Smith’s Richard, they have a great chemistry and there’s a battle going on beneath the surface as she tries to temper his sky high expectations. Smith gives a career-highlight performance here, it’s entertaining to watch from start to finish, but there are a few select scenes where it strikes its finest notes. When the deeper emotions come out onto the court, that’s where he shines and there won’t be a dry eye to be found.
Then there’s the two wonders of actresses playing the sisters themselves, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena. Not only are they the spitting image of the superstars at that age but they both give phenomenal performances. They individually have serious emotion to portray here and they do it with ease, as well as being both filled with bubbly energy. Then when working together, the bond they create is a sheer delight to watch. While Smith may take the limelight as the king himself, these two extremely talented young actresses need to be recognised for their superb work in this film, they’re every bit on his level.
However, the most expected element of King Richard is not the story but the direction and overall style. It ticks every typical box for this genre of film, the movement and patter of it feel overtly familiar. It still works well and is enjoyable to watch but it’s a shame not to see a more original spin added to set it apart. With this story being one in a million, you would have hoped for a slightly more energetic or powerful edge to the visual style to really do it justice. Although, it shows a clear need and hunger to tell this story on screen and now we just need the follow up to track their full path to world champions.
King Richard is a perfect story for cinema, committed, loving parents embracing and cultivating their extremely talented children, in an underdog jouney. It’s sweet, funny, compelling and very entertaining. The whole cast is exceptional and it truly highlights the terrific young talent at work here, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton go toe to toe with the emotional performances from heavyweights Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis. Its overall style fits the mould a little too well, it’s missing that extra touch to stand out but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s incredibly worth watching and a lovely celebration of the Williams family’s success and dedication. One that you’ll undoubtedly want to watch more than once.