Movie Review: King Richard


Analise Bruno, Editor-in-Chief

King Richard is a biopic that follows the lives of acclaimed tennis players Venus and Serena Williams as they go from good to great. While I am not one for sports movies, with the occasional exception being One for the Titans, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Those who follow tennis likely already know how the story ends, but for someone who’s never even seen a match, I found that the whole movie kept me on my feet, and taught me some interesting things about perspective. 

The film starts in Compton, California where we witness “King Richard” (portrayed by Will Smith) the father of Venus and Serena playing with his girls on the court. Though he comes across as a bit brutal, pushing them to swing faster, hit harder, and, of course, “open their stance”, he is simply a loving father looking to give his kids all the experiences he never had. His main goal is to turn them into stars, and as history has proven, he was correct. 

It’s crazy to see how much power the actors, who are far from professional tennis players, put into playing the game. In fact, it was revealed that the actress portraying Venus, 15-year-old Saniyya Sidney trained Monday through Friday to not only acquire the tennis-playing skills but to also do so with her opposing hand because, unlike the real Venus Williams, Sidney is left-handed. Nonetheless, her hard work paid off in a way that allows you to feel like you are watching live footage of the Williams sisters. Their stances, hits, swings, misses, and drives are acted beautifully and contribute to the cohesiveness of the piece. 

Likewise, I find one of the most eloquent things about this film is Will Smith’s acting. From his change in accent to his mannerisms, Smith wholly embodies who King Richard is made out to be. He is pushy, but a good kind of pushy who can create opportunities for his girls straight from the ground up. The addressing of setbacks relating to race, and tennis classically being an all-white sport was critical in understanding the girls’ upbringing and, in my opinion, was executed flawlessly by the whole cast. Richard Williams is known for making plans living by the sentiment that, “You Got to have a plan for every day, else what? You fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This was later shown in his drive to prove the worth of his girls in the tennis world. After fighting for his kids to be seen by top coach Paul Cohen, he secures Venus a professional mentor, free of charge. Though he cannot get Serena under the same contract, Richard continues to tape Venus’s practices, and his wife, Orecine, coaches her instead. Together the dynamic parent duo supports both of their girls on the climb to the top. Sticking true to his nature, Richard never accepts the first offer. When two very pretentious country club investors come to talk to him about sponsoring Venus Richard remains cynical of their intentions and calls them completely out when they make racially-stereotypical assumptions about his daughters. Watching the way Smith portrays the fight of a father opens your eyes to the kind of support people who want to be successful need today. The power executed in such a brief scene completely molded the whole shape of the film.

It is the family connection shown that is truly everything in my opinion. From the very start up until the finish, Venus and Serena are not just surrounded by their family, but also supported by them in a way that allows them to achieve their highest level of potential. They celebrate whether the girls win or not, which is paralleled in the scene where Venus wins her first tournament, up until she competes against Vaccario in her first professional match. While Richard is known for his negotiations, even putting top coach Rick Macci in his place, his character development from coach-dad, to a sideline supporter who always has his daughter’s best interest at heart, not his own, is truly phenomenal. One such instance I appreciated the most in the whole movie occurred when a scene depicting interviewers trying to twist Venus’s words around to make her seem like an overconfident big shot. The moment Richard catches wind, he immediately confronts the reporter and defends his daughter. His ability to be both coarse and vulnerable truly gives some life to his acting. 

I can’t make this a complete review without giving at least SOME nod to the costume work. You’ll not only notice that the actresses playing Venus and Serena are nearly identical to the girls in real life (with the special inclusion of Venus’s beautiful head full of beads at the end) but also Richard’s very 80s-esque fits. From the short shorts to the color-block windbreakers, I think the costuming department did a great job.

Now, here’s your warning before I spoil the very integral ending: Though Venus does lose the final match, and it’s disappointing, I think the chronology of the film teaches an important message about resilience. In the few matches they’ve played, and the many practices they had, the film is careful to not show too much defeat. The Williams sisters are placed on an extremely high pedestal in the film, which leads audiences to believe that Venus will beat Viccarrio. The fire in Sidney’s acting drives you to have that expectation. Therefore, when Venus loses, though the scene is sad, the optimism pushed by Richard, and the ending clips showing her play at the US Open and Wimbledon render a certain feeling of power in those watching who know what it feels like to want to give up. This devastation hits all at the very end of the movie, not the middle/climax area like most people would expect, and in doing so, illuminates the idea that failure is not fatal as long as you’re able to pick yourself back up and try again. 

Overall, I would HIGHLY recommend you watch this film, sports fan or not, because its message, acting, and complete cinematography are truly invigorating.