Written by Zach Bylin
Starring Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal
2021 | PG-13 | 2h 24min
Streaming: HBO Max
Actor Will Smith (Aladdin, Men in Black, Independence Day, Ali, Winters Tale) has a lock on an Academy Award nomination with his performance in King Richard as Richard Williams, the much maligned father of tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams.
As much as we think we know of their story, there is much more to learn about the early years, when this colorful man went around telling people that his daughters had the makings of great tennis players.
Will Smith’s performance as Richard Williams is matched by that of Aunjanue Ellis as Brandi Williams, the mother of Serena and her four sisters. Her patience, her tenacity, her strong love for her daughters gave her incentive to stick around and stand up to her sometimes overbearing husband.
Richard’s moments of eccentricity and acting out had a very serious purpose. He put together a plan, carefully researched and thought out, to provide opportunities for his daughters beyond what was available in the small town of Compton.
What made Richard run? Talking to his daughters in their beat-up family car, he spoke of his early years in Shreveport LA, where segregation was deep and wide, and anyone who violated their rules risked being lynched. He wanted so much more for his girls, as did his wife Brandi. They did not respect me, he said to them, but they will respect you.
Richard is famous for his pithy quotes:
I’m in the champion-raising business.
We’re out here getting great.
You need a plan for everything, or else you’re planning to fail.
Richard Williams has a checkered past as father and husband with other women, we find out when he gets into an argument with the exasperated mother of his five daughters. Brandi does have to bring him back to reality from time to time, but mostly
they are on the same page, providing constructive love to their daughters and fostering sibling loyalty.
The Williams family saga, as confirmed by Venus and Serena, is as inspiring as it gets — two hard working parents relentless in their search for ways to secure a solid future for their children. Richard brings tennis to each of his daughters; only Serena and Venus show talent. However, the entire family pitches in to help them develop that talent. No one is left out.
There is laughter and humor, energetic training even in a summer rain, emphasis on doing homework, and practice after practice at deserted municipal tennis courts. A local teen gang picks a fight with Richard at the tennis court one night and he allows himself to be beaten up without fighting back. Anything to protect his girls. His restraint is impressive given that he has a permit to carry a gun because he is a security guard.
And a wonderful moment comes when the street gang has a new leader and he “gets” what Richard is about, offering his protection. The scene is brief, but powerful, reminding one of the film Akeelah and the Bee, where the local gang leader tells Akeelah’s brother to help her win that spelling bee. A win for one family brings pride and hope to the others.
Venus wins 49 singles titles and Serena becomes the GOAT, greatest of all time, with 73 singles titles.
Once he realizes he has taught Venus and Serena all he knows, Richard goes on a quest to find a tennis coach. All are white males and none believes two kids in Compton have that much potential, especially since Richard is asking them to train his daughters for free. He never gives up. Eventually he finds one coach who is willing to train Venus. Undeterred, Richard films each practice and then gives the tape to his wife. A former athlete herself, Brandi uses the tape to train Serena at home.
The audience is drawn in completely by this impossible story of family love and determination, especially since we know the outcome. Venus wins 49 singles titles and Serena becomes the GOAT, greatest of all time, with 73 singles titles.
Reinaldo Marcus Green directed this truly entertaining and informative film. Zach Baylin is the screenwriter. Actor Will Smith is one of the producers.
Green described Richard Williams as a man who just tried to do right by his kids, the best way he could with the tools that he had. And nobody is perfect. He learned lessons along the way.
Absolutely rich in the magic that happens when parents pull together and surround their energetic kids with love and laughter, discipline and a dream.