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November 26, 2022
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Life & Culture

Review: Venus and Serena Williams biopic smashes an ace

King Richard

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The genre of biopics can grow tiring with a typical formula and story beats designed specifically to emotionally capture the audience in expected ways. “King Richard” proves that there is still life left in the sports biopic when the story and characters are compelling enough to overcome a sense of predictability.

Reinaldo Marcus Green, who also directed “Monsters and Men,” helms “King Richard.” The film is based on the true story of Richard Williams (Will Smith) coaching his two daughters, Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams (Demi Singleton), into becoming legendary tennis players from a young age. According to the end credits of the film, Venus has gone on to win the Wimbledon tournament five times, and many people consider Serena to be the greatest tennis player ever. She has been a grand slam champion 23 times at the age of 40.

Richard had a plan for the two girls since before they were even born that he intends to follow strictly. Many people around him considered his methods to be controversial, as Richard hesitated in allowing Venus to go pro at a young age despite her clear athletic ability. He felt a desire to protect and allow his children to enjoy their childhood, which created an interesting conflict with many of the professional coaches who Richard enlisted to help his daughters later on in the film.

“King Richard” is an irresistibly entertaining and crowd-pleasing film that also does not fail to shy away from the harsher realities of the story. The film accomplishes this by establishing Richard’s love for his daughters and immediately showing his insistence on getting them to be successful players in the first scene. The audience is pulled in right away as Richard’s daughters get rejected without getting a chance to play.

“King Richard” and its success is a testament to writer Zach Baylin, who does a great job at portraying moments between the Williams family. The dialogue between the characters feels extremely natural and flows very well. The film’s 144-minute runtime does end up running too long, with moments in the second act ending up feeling a bit repetitive. However, the film’s commitment to its characters makes it worth seeing through.

Scenes where the characters play tennis are exhilarating to watch. The camera beautifully and smoothly captures the sport in exciting ways, emulating the quick, intense and fluid movement of a tennis match. Even for viewers unfamiliar with the sport, the film’s clear cinematography makes it easy to follow what is happening.

The performances in “King Richard” help to bring life to the film with grounded and realistic performances from the entire cast. Will Smith does a great job at transforming into Richard Williams by changing his voice and capturing the essence of a man who would do anything for his daughters. Richard often makes choices that hurt the other characters in the film, primarily his wife, Brandy Williams (Aunjanue Ellis). Smith’s portrayal of Richard makes the hard choices he makes understandable, creating a space for the audience to sympathize with him and how his past has led him where he is now.

Ellis is also exceptional in the film, showcasing Brandy’s love for her daughters through subtler moments and more dialogue-heavy scenes. In one of the best scenes in “King Richard,” after often holding back her emotions for much of the film, Brandy lets loose to Richard and the audience is sympathetic to her pain. Ellis performance conveys the hardships she faces in staying with Richard and her undervalued contributions in the family. 

Ultimately, in watching the story of Venus and Serena Williams and how their father’s plan carried them to stardom in the tennis world, the audience is left on an inspirational note.

Matt Minton can be reached at mminton@ithaca.edu