Sentimental biopic of Richard Williams in ‘King Richard’



Will Smith (center) in “King Richard.”

Kelly Feng, Opinion Editor

You don’t have to be a tennis fanatic to appreciate the Best Picture Oscar nominee “King Richard”. The film follows the story of tennis father Richard Williams and his determination to mold his daughters into tennis sensations, writing them into sports history. The story centers on the daring but charismatic Richard, who’s dead set on his daughters’ potential and stubbornly goes up against anybody who thinks otherwise.
All film elements mesh together to tell the story of their upcoming stardom. We first meet the Williams family in the early 1990s. Will Smith plays Richard, and his wife, Oracene, is played by Aunjanue Ellis. The couple lives with their five daughters in a modest bungalow-style house in Compton, California. Richard has a 78-page plan to produce not one, but two tennis superstars.
Smith’s embodiment of Richard is a charismatic, compelling portrait of the tennis father. Dani Singleton plays Serena, and Saniyya Sidney plays Venus, both actresses having an intuitive understanding of how to play ordinary girls destined for greatness. It’s a challenging role to play real-life characters, but both express their character nuances and subtleties, knowing what is needed to encapsulate the athletes.
Determined to stick to his ready-for-success manifesto, Richard convinces one elite coach after another to take his daughters on for free. When the sisters are younger, he brings them to their first professional coach Paul Cohen, played by Tony Goldwyn, who takes them as far as possible. Richard then summons Jennifer Capriati’s coach Rick Macci, played masterfully by Jon Bernthal, to coach his daughters to the majors.
As Richard interacts with the coaches, we see his tenacity and steadfast belief in his written plan to create a place in the tennis landscape for his daughters. While there are some scenes where Richard is dogmatic and too stubborn, Smith portrays him as charming, self-deprecating and magnetic.
Venus owns and takes command of her sizable tennis talent while Serena quietly realizes her stratospheric potential, both guided by the determined and crafty Richard.
“King Richard” also pays homage to the 1990s, with every scene transporting us back to the decade. Each shot has a vintage component, from the Williams’ family Volkswagen bus to the caned rattan chairs in the family’s Compton kitchen. Hand-made signs, bold multicolored equipment bags and vintage Nike logos round up the era’s vibe. In many ways, this is a throwback to the old-fashioned rags to riches story we may have seen in earlier decades. But the sentimental film works without being corny or dumbed down.
The movie pays off in the final scene where Venus, now 14-years-old, makes her professional debut in 1994 and competes against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the World No. 2 tennis player. Although Sanchez Vicario eventually prevails and wins the match, it was not an easy feat, and the real MVP is Venus, who plays till the end with calm and composed tenacity.