Smith earns crown in ‘King Richard’

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Behind many successful and talented people is their upbringing. Whether they were fully supported by their parents, or driven so extensively that success was the only option, many times their childhood tells the story of the accomplishments they achieve in life. This is the basis of the film “King Richard,” based on the childhood of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams and their father, Richard.

Richard Williams (Will Smith) has been looked down upon his entire life, but this doesn’t stop him from being a devoted father and husband. Married to Oracene Williams (Aunjanue Ellis), the couple raise five daughters in poverty-stricken Compton, Calif., in the early 1990s.

For Venus and Serena (Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton), though, Richard has other plans. Instead of being doctors or lawyers, Richard believes they are going to grow up to be the best tennis players the world has ever seen. 

Richard garners the attention of top coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), who happens to coach and train some of the best tennis players in the world. Cohen agrees to only coach one of the girls for free. Because Venus is the older and more skilled player, he chooses to coach Venus.

Serena is devastated, but elated for her sister. The family’s financial troubles also turn around when Venus starts playing and dominating junior tournaments. Just when things couldn’t possibly seem to be going any better, Richard puts a halt to everything. Worried about the success getting to Venus’ head, and the pressure and leech of businessmen and sponsorships lurking over the talented young tennis star, Richard fires Cohen and removes his daughter from playing in juniors.

As Venus keeps improving, and the money, sponsorships and contracts keep piling up like a bucket of tennis balls, it’s evident there’s only one thing in Venus’ way: her father. Richard got his daughter this far, but at some point, he’s going to have to make a decision about what’s best for his daughter and what’s best for Richard Williams.

Venus and Serena Williams are the rare transcendent talents in which you don’t have to know anything about their respective sport to know exactly who they are. They fall into the category of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, etc., and it’s fascinating how the film illustrates their life before they were on the cover of magazines and dominating at Wimbledon. 

The real star of “King Richard,” though, belongs to Will Smith. Smith’s Richard is cracking dad jokes one minute, and the next minute, coming off as a ruthless dictator robbing his daughters of a normal childhood. This range and Smith’s belief and emotion in every word he says, is why he may hoist Oscar gold in a few months in what is a career best for the gifted actor.

Certainly, “King Richard” enjoys asking that infamous rhetorical question: What’s the fine line in pushing your children to greatness? For the film’s purposes, Richard comes off insane just as much as he does brilliant, evidenced by the tennis legends we know the sisters to be today.

As far as sports dramas are concerned, “King Richard” is about as good as it gets. It’s worth watching alone for Smith’s ace of a performance, but you’ll stay entertained throughout the entirety of the film for the love both on and off the tennis court.

Grade: A-



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