King Richard, 2021.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green.
Starring Will Smith, Demi Singleton, Saniyya Sidney, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Tony Goldwyn, Susie Abromeit, Dylan McDermott, Judith Chapman, Katrina Begin, Erin Cummings, Andy Bean, Kevin Dunn, Craig Tate, Calvin Clausell Jr., Noah Bean, Vaughn W. Hebron, and Chet Grissom.
A look at how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams.
A tennis instructor inquiries to Richard Williams (Will Smith, admirably playing a flawed persona and doing so with controversy and well-meaning conviction) which of his ambitious and skilled daughters is Venus and which is Serena. Richard simplifies; the taller one is Venus, and the shorter one is Serena. This exchange comes over an hour into King Richard, where director Reinaldo Marcus Green, having already released one narratively misguided film somewhat redeemed by terrific performances this year in Joe Bell) and debut writer Zach Baylin have shown they care even less about distinguishing the gifted players beyond the sport. Hell, that’s how I was able to tell them apart five minutes in. Here, we have two of the most celebrated living legend athletes in the world, barely defined or illuminated aside from what they can do on the court.
Playing devil’s advocate, King Richard also understands that biopics are less effective when chronicling an entire life, here focusing on Serena and Venus Williams (played by Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney, a piece of information you have to go a ways down the IMDb casting list to find, further proving that the two biggest attractions are kind of wasted) at ages 11-14. Specifically, the film starts by showcasing their Compton life consisting of intense training (sometimes during pouring rain, although the girls enjoy it) and searching for a coach, running the Juniors circuit, and finding the perfect time to take them pro (often butting heads with Jon Bernthal’s hasty but qualified coach, offering his students expenses and a roof under his Florida resort). Throughout the various trials and tribulations those quests present, Richard hypes up his girls to mainstream media while tending to the rest of his children and wife Brandi (an outstanding Aunjanue Ellis, not afraid to rip into her husband when he’s either making mistakes or an ass of himself).
But it still doesn’t shake the frustration of the film having the wrong perspective and doing with Venus and Serena next to nothing for 100 minutes. Maybe one of these days, Reinaldo Marcus Green will figure out which character his movie should be about.
Screening as part of the 25th anniversary of the Black Perspectives program and coming from a major distributor in WB, it did make for conventional and crowd-pleasing closing night to the festival. If nothing else, no one can deny the tremendous acting from everyone involved.
King Richard closed out the 57th Chicago International Film Festival from the majestic Music Box theater.
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com