King Richard Review: Will Smith delivers a 'grand slam' performance as Venus & Serena Williams' venturous dad

In King Richard, Will Smith brings to euphoric life, Richard Williams - an ambitious, protective father to tennis superstars Venus Williams and Serena Williams - with grit, heart and a whole lot of sass. Read Pinkvilla's review below.

Updated on Mar 26, 2022 04:51 AM IST  |  71.3K
King Richard Review
Will Smith stars as Venus Williams and Serena Williams' father Richard Williams.

King Richard

King Richard Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singelton

King Richard Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

King Richard Stars: 4/5

"You are the most stubborn person I've ever met in my life. And I coach [John] McEnroe!" Truer words have not been spoken to define the electrifying phenomenon, i.e. Richard Williams, father and former coach to tennis superstars Venus Williams and Serena Williams. King Richard is a clear cut ode from two grateful daughters, who also executive produce this project, to a man misunderstood by all except his own family.

King Richard may seem like an underdog story for everyone, but it's anything other than that because Richard predictably pre-planned Venus and Serena's success path and future achievements even before they were born in his previously mocked but now revered 74-page plan. Will Smith, in his "grand slam" aka Oscar-envy performance formidably brings to life Richard Williams' unabating grit in coaching Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton), in spite of their poor Compton backgrounds, that too an 'expensive' sport like tennis. His rigorous "come rain, come shine" technique may seem overbearing to most, so much so that cops were called on him, but absolutely nothing deters Richard's conviction and drive in giving his daughters a "rich" life that he never got to live himself.

Playing an equal counterpart in her daughters' success is their loving mother Oracene "Brandy" Price (Aunjanue Ellis), who happens to be the only one who can keep Richard's megalomaniac tendencies on a tight leash. As their dadager, Richard quite literally media trains his daughters, from a young age, and after a jarring number of rejections to train them by renowned coaches, but never losing hope, Williams manages to strike gold with Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) - coach to tennis legends like Pete Sampras and John McEnroe - and ultimately, veteran coach Rick Macci (Tony Goldwyn). Through these two, who take a chance on the Williams siblings, we witness how erratic and stubborn Richard can be, as King Richard doesn't stoop to whitewashing him. Rather, it gives its audience an introspective look at him with a key to deciding his likeability, as an overambitious or loving parent or both, which can fray with every scene. Moreover, we're also parallelly treated with Venus and Serena's ultimate devotion to their father, even if at times they don't agree with it. Whether it be making the monumental decision of taking Venus out of the junior circuit or even prioritising Venus over Serena, the latter of which has to bask in her sisters' shadow and she does so with unbridled pride.

While the coaching sessions fill in for the standard sports movies 'quota', it's the more vulnerable scenes inside the Williams household that leave you hooked, line and sinker. You know how celebrated the story is going to turn out, with Venus taking by storm the elite sport at the tender age of 14, hence you're more invested in the behind-the-scenes of how this unbelievable story came to life. As for Richard's own tragic backstory, we're given tiny fragments here and there, from the Ku Klux Klan dominance and his father's abandonment to his numerous infidelities, but it never digs deep as you'd expect it to understand the man behind the media personality. In a startling sequence, Richard goes to confront a group of young men, hustling his eldest daughter, with a gun in his possession (from his job as a security guard), but there isn't much emphasis on it later on. It would have been a gripping, interesting take to get into the psyche of what made Richard Williams. However, racism is a subtly included motif throughout, especially in how the family is judged outside and inside the court. With a few competitive allies, there are several nasty thorns Venus and her family have to endure constantly, in spite of the numerous milestones achieved and history rewritten.

That's not to say that King Richard ain't "The Richard Williams Show" because it truly is and that's thanks to Will Smith's poignant performance, where the restraint silence is as dramatically powerful as the go-getter with a "never say fail" attitude and a whole lot of sass. Inspite of his overzealous attitude, we also witness the tender moments he shares with his five daughters and his wife, especially Venus, as he reprimands her and asks her to "have fun" in equal measure. We've seen Will in such earnest, heartwarming performances before, but with King Richard, there's an even greater sense of maturity in all its mighty Oscar bait with Smith.

On the other hand, similarly puissant is the brilliant Aunjanue Ellis, who envisions Brandy with touching conviction and is arguably gifted with the best scenes in the entire movie. Brandy's verbal showdown with Richard, where she puts her husband in his righteous place, reminding him of what the actual endgame is, is a masterclass on emotive acting. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton bring genuine sincerity with classy finesse in the young, trailblazing Williams sisters, whether it be having heart-to-heart with their dad and mom to killing it on the court. Saniyya, specifically, brings raw intensity in showcasing why Venus was a force to be reckoned with. While Tony Goldwyn keeps it elegantly prim and to the point with his limited time frame as Paul Cohen, Jon Bernthal is delightfully exuberant as Rick Macci, with an infectious personality fit to oscillate Richard's mulish whims and fancies and a dedicated coach to the girls.

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In King Richard, Reinaldo Marcus Green's direction with Zach Baylin's script miraculously plays it safe in Richard Williams' character sketch, where you're not fed a white lie, but it's also what we've already witnessed in real life. It never takes risks like Richard himself did, so often, in harbouring two #1 tennis players, the best amongst the existing "mostly white" crème de la crème. At an overambitious duration of almost two and a half hours, the tennis sequences shot aren't as expertly eye-catching as you'd expect them to be with continuous POV shots of the Williams family's reactions interlaced. Nevertheless, King Richard wins big brownie points with its primary theme - a triumphant journey of a Black family - in its final tear-jerking sequence with the ending credits playing Beyoncé and Dixson's exhilarating Oscar-nominated track, Be Alive, as real life footage of the Williams family, with Venus and Serena's outstanding achievements and Richard as their #1 cheerleader, is highlighted.

In finality, there's a sense of irony in King Richard, which doesn't try to depict Richard Williams as a 'kingly' man. Rather, it showcases him as a dedicated, relentless father, who was the pillar of strength in catapulting two gifted girls to superstardom "queens," by replacing his broken dreams with moulding theirs instead. It ain't "two Mozarts" or "next two Michael Jordans," in Richard Williams' hands but one Venus Williams and one Serena Williams, who shook the tennis world "representing every little Black girl on Earth."

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