REVIEW: ‘King Richard’ is aces on the court, on the screen

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Photo by Isabel Bonebrake (isabel.bonebrake@marquette.edu)

Varsity Theatre showed “King Richard” Friday, Feb. 18.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” A motto of Richard Williams, father of tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams and now the center of “King Richard,” a biopic movie about the dedication of a father to ensure the success of his two daughters.

The titular character in the film, “King Richard” Williams is played by six-time Academy Award-nominated actor Will Smith. From the beginning of the film, Williams is a man of humble means and dedication. He wants nothing more than to see his daughters become the best tennis players in the world, and he has a 78-page plan for exactly how it is going to happen.

Smith, who was recently nominated in the Best Actor category at the 2022 Academy Awards for his portrayal of the character, gives one of his best performances. His dialect and emotions through his lines, even just the delivery of every line, are almost perfect.

The character fits Smith all too well, and in some scenes, it was impossible for me to tell that he was acting. His emotion and care for Williams and the story that he was telling were on full display throughout the film. For example, Williams uses Disney’s “Cinderella” to teach his daughters a lesson on humility and never forgetting their roots.

The film takes place at the beginning of Venus and Serena Williams’ tennis careers and focuses on Venus’ journey to her first professional tennis tournament. From playing in juniors tournaments to taking a three-year break from matches to perfect her game before turning pro, her father was there every step of the way, following his plan. And for a viewer like myself, the film was just as much of a sports history lesson as it was a drama.

I never knew how the Williams sisters came to claim their thrones in the tennis world, all I knew was that Serena had won Wimbledon seven times, Venus being a five-time winner herself. But watching this movie, I was enthralled by the dedication that Richard Williams had for his daughters. While he was controversial at times in how he handled his daughters’ careers, he never changed who he was, and never expected his daughters to compromise who they were, just to get ahead in the sport. And that amazed me.

The casting of this movie, overall, is some of the best that I have ever experienced. When the end credits began to roll and shots of home videos began to appear on the screen, I felt like I was still watching the film. Saniyya Sidney, the actress that portrayed a young Venus Williams, could almost be the tennis star’s twin at age 14. And the same can be said for Demi Singleton who is a spitting image of young Serena Williams.

Just from the casting choices alone, this movie was made with love and care in mind. But is more than just a tennis movie. Reinaldo Marcus Green, the director of the film, painted a picture of not only the upbringing of two of the biggest tennis players in the world but took great care to encapsulate the time period and events of early 1990s Compton, California that the Williams family may have been impacted by. 

Depictions of police brutality on background television screens and the looks and questionable stares from white families at tennis matches show just how defiant the Williams had to be to succeed in a sport that until that point was dominated by white players.

“King Richard” is a definite must-see. Will Smith and the ensemble cast do an amazing job in depicting their characters to a tee. The story in and of itself is one that challenges viewers to never give up on their dreams, even if they seem impossible. If you have a goal, if you have a plan, it is achievable. Richard Williams never wavered on the thought that his daughters would be great, the best there ever was – that notion in this movie that is crystal clear. For these reasons, I give “King Richard” a 9.5 out of 10.

At the Academy Awards Mar. 27, “King Richard” is nominated in six categories: Best Picture, Best Actor (Will Smith), Best Supporting Actress (Aunjanue Ellis), Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Original Song.

This story was written by Kim Cook. She can be reached at kimberly.cook@marquette.edu.