“King Richard”

“That man’s crazy.”

Story: Once upon a time, a man named Richard had a lovely, intelligent wife and five lovely, intelligent daughters. But Richard had plans; he’d train his two youngest girls to become tennis pros, moving the family out of Compton and into history. And y’know what? He did just that.

Genre I’d put it in: Movie-of-the-Week Sports Biopic Elevated To Worthwhile Oscar Bait

Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the lives of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, their family…and, of course, their dad Richard.

Gotta say: Everyone that knows me knows I suck at tennis. I long to be at least Z-grade, but? I can’t hit the ball. From crazy-talented tennis friends in high school to a boyfriend who just knew I only needed a little help…everyone who’s tried to teach me, has failed miserably. All because of me and my inability to swat. Or whatever – go sports! But even I know of the Williams sisters. I’ve been gobsmacked by their talent, and glued to my TV every time they’d perform those feats of tennis skill. Those women are at the pinnacle of their sports top names, and rightfully so. Richard tells us the story of how these girls went from regular ol’ kids to sports legends, and I was sucked in from the get-go.

Why? Well, for one I’m a huge sucker for an well told biopic. Sure, Richard takes a few liberties with the facts, omitting things that make no real difference to the Dad Raises Champs narrative; the film shows Richard with five daughters, though he had children from earlier marriages, and the eldest three shown in this film were born from his wife’s previous relationship. The film also treads lightly on his day-to-day dealings with his daughters, with passing references to how he’s leading all five of them to success in various forms. But writer Zach Baylin focuses the plot where most viewers want it; on the courts. There’s a lot of character development and emotional pull during, and in-between, games/sets/things I don’t know about tennis, and the powerful performances by Will Smith as Richard,

Why? Well, for one I’m a huge sucker for an well told biopic. Sure, Richard takes a few liberties with the facts, omitting things that make no real difference to the Dad Raises Champs narrative; the film shows Richard with five daughters, though he had children from earlier marriages, and the eldest three shown in this film were born from his wife’s previous relationship. The film also treads lightly on his day-to-day dealings with his daughters, with passing references to how he’s leading all five of them to success in various forms.

Writer Zach Baylin focuses the plot where most viewers want it; on the courts. There’s a lot of character development and emotional pull during, and in-between, games/sets/things I don’t know about tennis, and the powerful performances by Will Smith as Richard, Demi Singleton as Serena, Saniyya Sidney as Venus, and Aunjanue Ellis as mom/wife Brandy Williams had me invested in their story. Yeah, even though I basically had no idea what was going on, sports-wise. Richard may play out mostly on the court, but the emotional core of the film is the bond this family has with each other. No matter how hard Richard pushes, the family comes together.

No, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and Ellis’ Brandy has no problem setting Richard to rights when necessary. Yeah, as in real life, this family is Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that’s lightly touched on in the film; I enjoyed the scene where Brandy simultaneously commits to her religion while tearing her hubby a new one. Dunno if that’s allowed in that religion – I know zero about Witnesses – but the scene was a perfect blend of writing, performing, and direction. Which reminds me, director Reinaldo Marcus Green makes a story about the sporting life feel more like a family drama that happens to take place in the world of tennis. We get moments where Richard sees other parents treating their kids like garbage when those kids fail…and then there’s Richard, who may be a tough SOB, but seems to genuinely love and like his girls, always insisting that they go out and have fun.

That may be the only real sticking point I have with this film. Richard is so adept at crafting a beautiful story about success achieved through truly hard work, that it often feels like a bit of a fairy tale re-imagining has entered the chat. That’s okay in terms of being able to enjoy the film, but folks who got a bit miffed at films like Bohemian Rhapsody, A Beautiful Mind, and The Blind Side for taking a fast-n-loose approach? Y’all may be miffed here too. I like to think of these “based on a true story” films as an amuse bouche; something to whet my appetite for learning more about the story portrayed on screen by getting me to care about these real-life characters. And in that regard? Richard not only succeeded, but hit a grand slam. (That’s a tennis thing, right?)

Grade: B+

Protip: Make sure to stay for the end credits, when Richard switches from drama to documentary, showing clips from the Williams’ real lives. I was surprised at exactly how much real-life quotes they’d used in the film. Bravo.

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
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