“King Richard” (2021) has nothing to do with European castles and medieval times. Damsels in distress? Well, maybe yes.
Set in California and Florida in the 1990s, the heartfelt biopic follows the training of tennis superstars Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) Williams by their parents Oracene Price (Aunjanue Ellis) and Richard Williams (Will Smith).
For playing the titular role, Smith has been sweeping the awards season with Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, and Critics Choice victories. While accepting the latter prize, he thanked the Williams sisters (who co-produced the film with him), adding, “I love that we were able to show what your mother did to help create and mold and shape your family. . . You all define the American dream.”
Smith’s speech built on the more character-driven one he delivered last month at the Screen Actors Guild ceremony, wherein he said, “Richard Williams is a dreamer like no one you’ve ever known. He has a power of belief that borders on insanity and sometimes tips over the border, which is absolutely necessary to take something from impossible to possible.”
No doubt, Richard Williams is a fascinating character, an eccentric entrepreneur and strict father who inspired Venus and Serena to become the greatest female athletes of their day. But had it not been for the determination, drive, dedication, physical prowess and ultimate success of his daughters, he wouldn’t have a story to tell. So, why does the film focus on him?
Imagine if Zach Baylin’s screenplay was called “The Tennis Queen” and centered on Serena, who grew up in the shadow of Venus only to become the bigger success later. The themes of sibling rivalry and sisterly love would have seemed more personal. The traditional direction by Reinaldo Marcus Green could have opened up in a more emotional way if Richard’s humorous and confounding antics were viewed through the eyes of Venus and Serena.
Since the Williams sisters aren’t the stars of their own story, the film sends a less empowering message to little girls aspiring to be stars of their own sport. Despite this angle, “King Richard” is recommended. It’s currently playing in theaters and is available to rent at Redbox or stream on various platforms.