“King Richard,” from director Reinaldo Marcus Green (“Monsters and Men”), is the story of Richard Williams, the father and coach of Venus and Serena Williams. The film is naturalistic, warm and engaging, with empathy. The narrative presents things as they are with heart and humor.
Richard Williams (Will Smith) is a security guard trying to handle life in Southern California. All through his life, Richard has been disrespected and trivialized by others. He has a family who loves him: his wife Brandi (Aunjanue Ellis), and daughters Venus (Saniyya Sidney), Serena (Demi Singleton),Tunde (Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew), Lyndrea (Layla Crawford), and Isha (Daniele Lawson). He has big dreams for all of his daughters but better yet he has a mammoth plan written on paper, specifically highlighting Venus and Serena.
By channeling his daughters’ shared love for tennis, Richard can be respected as he deserves and the Williams family will be thought of as royalty. Richard can taste this and he is driven. Although he is compulsive in his goal, he profoundly loves his family.
Will Smith all but disappears in his role and his performance as an obsessed coach is one of his best. With a halting gait, staccato speech and a piercing yet earnest gaze, Smith is truly transformed. He is now a salesman with a hyperactive tongue who refuses to recognize the word no.
Though the film is undeniably in the feel-good territory is does not shy away from harsh episodes. Richard is physically beaten by a gang member in front of his children. At one point, you might feel you are in Scorsese territory. But fear not. This is a portrait of an American family, bumps and all, as is. Though there are touches of guns, violence, fate and Rodney King, we are not entrenched in the realm of John Singleton’s “Boyz n the Hood.”
Richard is not transparent with Brandi and he has a history of infidelity, but through it all, the family holds and watches “Cinderella” for moral lessons.
Richard’s strongest defense his is love and his verbal manifesto for Venus and Serena, which is bound like a constrictive ribbon around everything he does.
The kids are also guided by Brandi who is a force of nature alone, even more driven at times than Richard.
Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena are excellent. The charm that the two actors deliver is full of spontaneity, ease and a bit of mischief.
Jon Bernthal has a solid turn as Coach Macci. In his amphetamine-like energy and nonstop speech, Macci does not, at first inspire longevity. He is slightly like Sonny Bono in the film with his black mustache, but he cares for his two clients.
This is a realistic, utterly authentic story of a family with a goal who love one another with ferocity and grace. The last portion of the film brims with claustrophobic suspense that never feels manipulative or played for show.
“King Richard” is not only a great sports film but it is also a great family film.
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