When the trailer for 'King Richard' debuted, all the alarms in my body went off. A biopic on not just two of the most famous female tennis players but sportspeople of all time, but the title and story seemed to focus on their father... uncomfortable vibes. Although I don't know much about the Williams' sisters' dad, it seemed wrong for him to be the focus over either Venus or Serena. I went in very hesitant - but don't let the title fool you.
'King Richard' tells the story of the Williams family. In the early 90s, Richard (Will Smith, 'Bad Boys For Life', 'Aladdin') and his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis, 'If Beale Street Could Talk', 'The Birth Of A Nation') are coaching two of their daughters, Venus (Saniyya Sidney, 'Hidden Figures', 'Fences') and Serena (Demi Singleton, TV's 'Godfather of Harlem'). Richard has a plan for them to become international tennis superstars, but is very resistant and controlling over any outside party that wants in on the girl's talent, and isn't afraid to pull them from competitions. Venus in particular is scouted to become one of the best players in the world but Richard pushes back, causing tension between not only the family but their coach Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal, 'Those Who Wish Me Dead', 'The Many Saints of Newark').
To my surprise, 'King Richard' is a roaring success. It has every good beat an enjoyable sports biopic should hit. You feel every serve, every bounce, every point. I think we are in a mindset that crowd-pleasing means a bad movie, but 'King Richard' is the perfect example of how to do crowd-pleasing - and it's a joyful delight.
The performances across the board are standouts. Smith is at a career high, and a frontrunner for an Oscar nomination. Still, Demi Singleton as Serena and Saniyya Sidney as Venus steal the show; these two young women are a force. I know a lot of the focus is on Smith but they are exceptional actors, holding their own fantastically against A-listers. I also adore Aunjanue Ellis as their mother, who plays a lot into the emotional weight of the film. The man, the myth, the legend, sir Jon Bernthal is also incredible as he dons a glorious thick 'stache, meaning it's wins across the board.
To go back to the fact the film is named after their dad: that really is why the film loses points. I understand both the narrative is focusing on the girls at a younger age and Richard was their coach, and the casting of Smith draws a lot more focus. Regardless, the film was at its strongest when it was about the Williams' as a family unit or either of the girls separately, and the film, at times, is held back due to the focus needing to be with Richard. Put bluntly, he was a little controlling over the girls, and the film actually takes the time to call him out. Compared to, say, 'The Greatest Showman', which all-out ignores anything bad P.T. Barnum did (and he's a terrible person), Richard's delusions being held accountable is one of the best scenes of the film.
The performances across the board are standouts. Smith is at a career high, and a frontrunner for an Oscar nomination. Still, Demi Singleton as Serena and Saniyya Sidney as Venus steal the show.
Another success of the film is that, rather than try to tell the whole Williams story, it just focuses on them at a young age. The stronger biopics do this - the likes of 'On The Basis of Sex', 'Judy' all succeed over films like 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'Respect' because they are more streamlined.
'King Richard' is easily one of the best - if not the best - sports biopics so far this century. It's an outright emotional joy to watch, and even though the focus sometimes drifts, its heart is in the right place, making this one of 2021's most jubilant films.