King Richard

In Theaters and HBO Max on Friday, November 19th!

THE PLOT:

Richard Williams (Will Smith) is the father of five daughters, each with aspirations of greatness. Richard works extra hard with his two star tennis players, Venus and Serena. Rain or shine, hot or cold, they practice. Richard also works tirelessly to give Venus and Serena the opportunity they have earned from their hard work – a chance at professional coaching and to turn pro. But Richard’s protective nature and unorthodox methods paves a longer, more difficult path for his daughters.

KENT’S TAKE:

“King Richard” is an inspirational film about Serena and Venus Williams, but it’s also about Richard and his uncompromising nature that sowed the seeds of success with his family.

Richard is a relentless promoter of both his daughters and himself. Unfortunately, asking people to give you over $100,000 in free coaching usually falls on deaf ears. Although rough-around-the-edges, there is no denying that Richard’s daughters have talent – Richard just can’t get anyone to evaluate them.

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green brings audiences a fun, wholesome, playful film. There is little drama in this story, instead we witness the development of greatness. What we learn has seemingly been lost in this country – dedication, passion, commitment and determination all play into the Williams sisters’ success, but the guide for that success was a father who was uncompromising, disciplined and unwavering.

This is a family film that inspires. Will Smith’s last few films have been stinkers and have disappointed, but here he elevates the entire film with his strong performance. His Richard is charming, funny and flawed as he works to do what’s right for his family. By the end of the film, we feel a part of this family.

Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams is steady and likeable, taking a backseat (but no less an important role) to her sister. Demi Singleton as Serena Williams offers a polite, confident and smart young lady. Both actresses know how to play tennis giving both wonderful acting and athletic performances.

The concept of dedicating your life to success is questioned in the film by a nosy neighbor, yet those who witness Serena’s and Venus’ tennis court prowess question the exact opposite as Richard sometimes prioritizes the girl’s academics and family life over practice. It’s those warring camps of mediocrity vs. over-focus that truly defines Richard’s character as he constantly swims upstream from consensus.

As Serena bursts onto the scene, the story accelerates the stakes, the pressures and the speed by which we strike for the climax.

Viewers will bow to “King Richard” as he forms a court of queens, jesters, advisers and two memorable warriors.

LYNN’S TAKE:

Anyone’s journey on how we become who we are can be turned into a compelling narrative in the right hands, and while the remarkable life story of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams is tailor-made for a Hollywood adaptation, not every inspiring sports champion transfers well to screen.

However, “King Richard” has the right blend of drama and action to be fascinating – and for 2 hours and 18 minutes, that’s quite an achievement.

Making the sisters’ fierce taskmaster and protector father, Richard, the centerpiece was absolutely the right move – and hinges on a deftly modulated performance from Will Smith.

After a disappointing string of box office duds, Smith is back in championship acting form – not just a movie star cavorting in front of green screens. His masterful portrayal of the complicated and driven patriarch is his comeback to awards season discussion, and may result in his third Oscar nomination, not since “The Pursuit of Happyness” in 2006.

He nearly disappears into the obsessively focused dad role wanting a better life for his children, molding his kids through methods he conceived, abrasive about status differentials and always being on the outside looking in as a black man in America. He nailed Richard’s dialect (he grew up in Louisiana) and his shape, gaining weight to physically mimic a big, strong guy.

Richard’s tennis-loving daughters Venus and Serena were eager pupils – and dreamers. Under his tutelage, they learned how to develop minds of a champion, not just the exceptional athleticism.

Young actresses portraying the sisters easily win us over – Saniyya Sidney, 15, as eldest Venus, the family’s first home, and Demi Singleton, 14, as powerful younger up-and-comer Serena.

They capably show us the hearts and minds of the prodigies-turned-pro, and it’s an interesting progression to the trailblazers they became.

The sisters’ well-documented steely determination remains impressive. Any casual sports fan knows of the Williams girls’ impact on tennis. The numbers (shown over the credits while Beyonce sings “Be Alive”) are testament: a combined 30 Grand Slam titles, with Serena’s 23 singles titles only one behind the record, and four Olympic medals.

Screenwriter Zach Baylin concentrated in equal measures on family life and competition, and details rising star Venus’ advancement in the sport, leading to her turning pro at age 14. We don’t get past the mid-90s, with Oracene eventually divorcing Richard, racking up big wins and endorsements, -- and is minus any tennis feuds or controversies.

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green adroitly unfolds the challenges the Williams faced from the streets of South Central L.A. to the pristine upper-echelon scenarios and the daunting majors. But he also works in the close-knit family’s playfulness.

The competitive tennis action is so realistic, making you feel you are getting an authentic depiction of tennis matches on courts in neighborhoods, country clubs, training camps and Grand Slam tournaments. Cinematographer handled the challenges superbly – and the young actresses used the Williams’ trademark open stance.

Aunjanue Ellis excels as Oracene “Brandi” Williams, the supportive mom who holds her own with Richard and the kids, as there were three other girls (Yetunde, Isha and Lyndrea Price). The warm portrayal of the family unit adds a heartfelt element.

As larger-than-life tennis coach Rick Macci, Jon Bernthal lays on a thick New Jersey accent, an intense attitude, and is good at being exasperated by a tough Richard – as they are both hell-bent on doing it their way. Macci runs the tennis academy in Boca Raton, Fla., where the Williams’ trained after moving from California.

Tony Goldwyn portrays the practical Paul Cohen, who coached John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, and other pre-eminent pros, as a straight shooter. Cohen was the first coach who took on the girls after their dad realized they had to reach another level.

Both Cohen and Macci recognized the Williams’ sisters’ talent and groomed them to become pros while tussling with their dad. Their perspective is necessary to key components in the coming-of-age story.

The crowd-pleasing movie has all the beats of a good sports biopic and the acting skills to captivate.

“King Richard” reminds us of how much hard work goes into becoming professional athletes and the against-the-odds obstacles the Williams’ faced and overcame. It’s easy to forget all the doors that Venus and Serena opened for other girls – and this film honors their father’s vision.