Friday Film Review -- "King Richard"
With 30 Grand Slam titles between them, Venus and Serena Williams are tennis legends. The new biopic - King Richard - shares the back story on the Williams sister’s rise to the top.
What does it take to create a champion?
The new sports biopic King Richard follows the Williams family’s unconventional journey to raise not just one but two tennis superstars – Venus and Serena Williams.
King Richard tells the story of the girls’ father, Richard Williams, played by Will Smith. Before they were born, Richard had a dream to create tennis champions, and he wrote a 78-page plan to make those dreams a reality for the two sisters.
The Williams family is close and private. To some outsiders, it may seem that Richard and his wife Oracene, played by Aunjanue Ellis, are overly strict and demanding of their daughters; however, it’s quite the opposite. The girls are held to high standards and are smart, polite, and respectful.
With scarce financial resources, Richard is determined to raise two tennis champions. He improvises by collecting used tennis balls, secondhand racquets, and rain or shine training sessions at the run-down tennis courts at their neighborhood Compton, CA park. He tirelessly visits professional coaches, pitching Venus and Serena’s raw talent and seeking free coaching, but is repeatedly turned down.
One day, at a local country club, Richard, with Serena and Venus in tow, approaches professional coach Paul Cohen, who he convinces to hit balls with the sisters during a break from a coaching session with John McEnroe and Pete Sampras. Paul is impressed with the girl’s talent and agrees to coach Venus, the older of the two sisters.
Concurrently, Oracene coaches Serena, copying Venus’ training sessions which are videotaped by Richard.
Not surprisingly, the girls fast track through the junior tennis circuit, winning matches left and right. About that same time, a young Jennifer Capriati made her professional debut at 13. That captured Richard’s attention, and he decides to raise the bar and his expectations for Venus, pulling her out of Juniors, and encouraging her to go pro - but only when she feels she is ready.
The family soon relocates to Florida, finds a new coach for both sisters, and Venus soon returns to competition, making her pro debut at age 14.
While much of the film chronicles the Williams sisters’ rise to fame, it also examines the role of parents of young athletes, how much influence they should have over their children’s sport, and when to let kids be kids.
King Richard was executive produced by Venus and Serena Williams, as a tribute to their father’s dedication to their success. Will Smith’s performance as Richard is already generating well-earned Oscar buzz, as is Aunjanue Ellis supporting role as Oracene.
Playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max, King Richard is rated PG-13 for some violence and strong language. However, don’t let the 2 hour and 24-minute length deter you – the film moves at a fast pace and will keep you engaged and rooting for Venus, Serena and Richard. It’s a film worth watching for tennis fans and anyone looking for a real-life inspirational story.