By Ananya Vinay
A parent’s dreams can be a devil or an angel on their shoulder, but more realistically, a blend that shapes their every decision. In King Richard, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, Richard Williams, the father of Serena and Venus Williams, takes his experience growing up in segregated Louisiana and transforms it into a burning fire to forge a better life for his children through a sinuous path. It begins with an 85-page plan and ends too early, at least in the movie.
To give credit to the movie, it undertakes all the tropes of a sports biopic from the family bonds to the underdog victory, but it does so with either very little or too much cushioning. The first half of the movie could easily be reduced by a fourth, and the audience would still understand the warm family relationships. Yet, the film makes the mistake of focusing on Richard at the expense of other equally fascinating characters. This is not to say that Will Smith is a fantastic actor who portrays a man who never quits despite the lines of sacrifice on his face and stooped back. But Richard is truly king in King Richard, while his family members are subjugated to obscurity in the script. Take his wife, Oracene, known as Brandy. Despite being an equal participant in their daughters’ tennis careers, she remains in the background of the film, gaining a voice far too late. The only time she’s more than a loving mother is when she calls out her husband’s insecurities and previously unmentioned other children, exposing the issues that run raw in their marriage. Yet, the film loses a potentially fascinating character study of both Brandy and Richard when it picks up that coal and drops it just as quickly.
The most egregious error to minimize the supposed main characters, Venus and Serena. In this film, the famed Serena Williams is a bit player, the cliche of a little sister in the shadow of the older. On the other hand, Venus herself is barely in the frame other than with the click of a ball on the racket. Although her maturity is displayed when she speaks up for herself by asking to participate in tournaments after three years, it disappears just as quickly. Regardless of this plot hole, her acting is sublime in how it portrays athletic grace and perseverance.
Regardless of how compelling the plot is, transitions only come in extremes. Either the buildup to even playing a single match is excessive, setting the scene of a joyful and simple family life. By the time half of the movie has finished, one wants to tell Richard to stop sharing his lessons and let the girls play tennis. For Richard Williams, every event has a moral, yet this movie doesn’t need a preacher to run: it would run its own course with just Venus and Serena.
The most obvious flaw is the stretch of time it depicts. It ends before their success even begins, a major disappointment since the triumphs of the Williams sisters are well-known. Their eventual victories are simply stated at the end, and every time either of the sisters participates in an interview, their father manages to intervene somehow. In this way, you become intimately familiar with his protectiveness, but you get the feeling of Venus and Serena being steps in his plan instead of flesh and blood people. His love, though, is unmistakable through his every contradictory action from pulling them out of tennis to refusing a deal with Nike.
As a motivational film or the thrilling tale of a sports parent, King Richard excels. The story holds the audience’s attention throughout the highs and the lows, yet it fails to win a championship. Richard, as the titular king, holds the spotlight while possessing a true character arc. However, in chronicling the early life of Serena and Venus Williams, it receives a score of love. This in itself is ironic as the athletes themselves are deeply loved by their father but not by the plot. King Richard would be highly recommended as an inspiring family movie, but one must look to another match to discover the narrative of the Williams sisters.