‘King Richard’ Movie Review: The Will Smith-Starring Volley of Emotion

Most Academy Awards seasons tend to have at least a couple of biopics in the conversation. These projects often provide actors an opportunity to showcase their talent with a complete transformation. However, most biopics are rather forgettable. Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard is imperfect, but he delivers a winning biopic with a tremendous performance from Will Smith

‘King Richard’ is based on a true story

'King Richard' review starring Will Smith as Richard Williams, Demi Singleton as Serena Williams, and Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams with Richard pushing the girls in a tennis ball-filled cart behind the tennis net
L-R: Will Smith as Richard Williams, Demi Singleton as Serena Williams, and Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams | Warner Bros. Pictures

King Richard is based on an inspirational true story. Richard Williams (Smith) is a relentless father with a loving family. He dreams of escaping his Compton neighborhood with his family and is willing to do anything in his power to make that happen. Richard will knock on any doors that he needs to for his voice to be heard.

Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton) are two of the family’s daughters. Richard has created a life plan for the girls for them to achieve greatness in the sport of tennis. He never doubts his daughters’ success, but is he pushing them too hard? How will his journey for fame and fortune impact his relationship with his family?

‘King Richard’ doesn’t focus on Venus and Serena Williams

Venus and Serena’s story will undoubtedly draw in tennis fans. However, King Richard isn’t really their story. It focuses on Richard’s journey. His relationship with the girls is pivotal, but their success isn’t entirely for them. Richard went his entire life without any respect and he wants that to change. Tennis was a predominantly white sport and he saw an opportunity. However, it’s clear that he wants his daughters to have the respect that he never got. Richard refuses to allow the streets to limit his family’s potential.

King Richard gradually builds a narrative for Venus, but Serena remains in the shadows. Richard, Venus, and Serena share the particular theme of self-worth, even despite their generational gap with their father. He instills a seemingly unbreakable sense of confidence in his daughters, but he’s experiencing his own internal battle throughout the movie. Venus is trying to meet the intimidating expectations placed on her, while Serena wrestles with feeling lesser than her sister.

Drama is the king, but King Richard is still a sports movie. The patriarch’s plans won’t allow Venus or Serena to play real games until he deems that they’re ready to do so. Once he does, Zach Baylin’s screenplay allows the tennis games to really go all-out. However, he utilizes that dramatic buildup to lead the charge as opposed to the games of tennis.

An inspirational biopic

'King Richard' review starring Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams and Will Smith as Richard Williams with Richard sitting in the foreground with Venus playing tennis in the background
L-R: Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams and Will Smith as Richard Williams | Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Pictures

King Richard calls itself the “true story that will inspire the world.” There’s no hiding that the movie is motivating and energizing. Green’s directorial efforts matched with Baylin’s screenplay is a winning combination that has no shortage of stirring drama mixed with moments of well-balanced comedy. King Richard is impressive in the way that it’s a compelling story that relies on well-written drama over giving characters the dreaded icon treatment.

However, the film’s biggest issue comes from its inability to criticize its subject. Richard’s drama is always captivating and it points out his flaws, but King Richard is apprehensive about criticizing them too much. The characters who call him out for his mistakes are given antagonistic treatment. Additionally, King Richard teases Venus and Serena’s more personal narratives, which beg for more exploration.

Nevertheless, King Richard is an enthralling sports drama. Smith delivers the best performance of his career as Richard. He wholly commits to the role of capturing another physicality and speech pattern. Sidney is also a shining star in her Venus portrayal, which is given nuance and care. King Richard is an inspirational biopic that makes its audience truly care about what it has to say.

King Richard hits theaters on Nov. 19.

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