An inspirational theme coupled with solid, crowd-pleasing storytelling makes director Reinaldo Marcus Green‘s “King Richard” the type of film that both critics and audiences will equally like. If it garners nominations this awards season (highly unlikely that it won’t), it’s the kind of movie that people who never watch the Oscars will tune in just to root for it to win. This success story about Richard Williams (Will Smith) and his life plan for his daughters Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) is an emotional and uplifting tale of two little black girls from Compton who shook up the sports world and became two of the greatest athletes of all time.
Fair warning if you’re going in expecting a biopic about the Williams sisters: this is a story about their dad, and they are just supporting characters. It’s no less interesting, but this isn’t a complete history of the tennis phenoms. It offers a nice little spin on traditional sports biopics though, with simple, straightforward storytelling that fits the material.
The film is far from objective, offering an idealized version of their family life. Zach Baylin‘s screenplay makes Richard easy to like. It’s barely critical of the man, glossing over his troubled past. By ignoring Richard’s flaws, it’s easy to build a connection with the audience. The film offers a few flashes of Richard’s negative aspects: his stubbornness, being seen as a distraction by coaches, his temper, and his pride. But the film mostly makes him out to be a saint who always made the correct choices, although we all know that’s not entirely true.
The film tracks the early years to present day (stick around to watch the credits), showing how Richard was never taken seriously by any tennis pros or coaches and how he was often dismissed because of his working class status and the color of his skin. But he believed in his daughters and never gave up. From endless practices to placing a focus on education, Richard made sure his kids had opportunities that often weren’t afforded to others from similar backgrounds. He taught the valuable life lessons and street smarts to keep them humble. Because of his “plan” for them, including a knack for self-promotion and marketing, all of this determination led to tremendous success in the tennis world.
Smith is an ideal fit in his role, and his performance is the one everyone will be talking about (rightfully so). But I’d hate for him to overshadow the excellent supporting actors too, who are across-the-board terrific here. From Jon Bernthal and Tony Goldwyn as tennis coaches Rick Macci and Paul Cohen, to Aunjanue Ellis as Venus and Serena’s determined, dedicated mother Brandy, this acting ensemble is just about as good as it gets.
The film has its share of cheesy, highly emotional, awards-bait scenes, with a lot of tears and platitudes. There are several instances where a character refers to “the plan” and throws their hands up in the air out of frustration. All of this ventures into eye-rolling territory, but it doesn’t take long for the story to get back on track. These are very minor negatives, however.
“King Richard” is a film that’s hard not to like. It will appeal to a wide audience, because who doesn’t love an inspirational underdog story with a happy ending?