King Richard (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): A father behind two daughters

“King Richard” is your average feel-good drama film which mostly plays safe from the beginning to the end. Right from when I went through its first few minutes, I could clearly discern what I was going to get, and the movie did not exceed my expectation that much as often being a bit too mild and sanitized for understandable reasons, but I must admit that it still held my attention enough mainly thanks to its several good performances.

The movie is based on the incredible real-life story of Venus and Serena Williams and their father Richard Williams. As many of you know, Venus and Serena have been two of the most distinguished tennis players in the world, and the early part of the movie shows us how much they were supported by their father even during their early years in the African American ghetto neighborhood of Compton, California. While both he and his wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis) are often busy with earning their living everyday, Richard (Will Smith) is not daunted at all as nurturing his two daughters’ considerable athletic skills day by day, and he also tries to look for any good sponsor or coach who may give a chance to his two daughters.

Because of their racial/social background, Richard and his two daughters did not draw much attention despite his constant attempts, but then there eventually comes a breakthrough for them. After checking out how good both Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) really are as promising young tennis players, a coach named Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) agrees to teach and train them more, and what do you know, both Venus and Serena soon distinguish themselves more as playing at one competition for junior players after another.

It seems that all Richard will have to do now is stepping aside for his two daughters to advance more toward their respective adult professional careers, but he does not stop at all as he already has a plan for his two daughters’ future. He does not hesitate when he comes to believe that the girls need a better coach for getting much more improved, so he later takes them to Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), who has more influence and connections compared to Cohen. In addition, he decides to be an independent agent for the girls because he feels the need to get things under his control as usual.

The main conflict in the story comes from when Richard later puts the moratorium on the girls’ burgeoning career just in case after becoming quite concerned about their welfare and education due to one tragic real-life case. Venus and Serena are certainly not so pleased about that, and neither is Oracene, but they all go along with that because they know and understand how much he has been dedicated to supporting not only Venus and Serena but also their three older sisters, who also grow up pretty well even though they are relatively less impressive than their younger sisters.

While it usually sides with its hero, the screenplay by Zach Baylin also recognizes how Richard is sometimes blinded by his pride and ego even when he is sincerely dedicating himself to his two daughters’ careers, and that aspect is sharply pointed out during one crucial private scene between Richard and Oracene. As they pull and push each other during their conversation, we come to sense more of how much Oracene has tolerated her husband for many years, and it is a bit shame that the movie does not delve deeper into their problematic but fairly functional relationship (Richard and Oracene Williams eventually divorced in 2002, by the way).

Anyway, the movie keeps things rolling under director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s competent direction. I must point out that many of tennis match scenes in the film feel perfunctory at best, but the movie still engages us as smoothly moving from one expected moment to another, and we are certainly rewarded with the obligatory dramatic finale which somehow pulls out a genuinely uplifting moment for the ending.

Most of all, the main cast members of the film did a commendable job of bringing considerable life and personality to their respective parts. Will Smith, who has been regarded as one of the main contenders in the ongoing Best Actor Oscar race, shows here more serious side of his talent as he previously did in “Ali” (2001) and “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006), and he utilizes well his likable screen persona in addition to being willing to go into his character’s edgier aspects. While Aunjanue Ellis is equally good during her several key scenes with Smith, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton hold each own place well between Smith and Ellis besides looking very convincing during those tennis match scenes in the film, and Tony Goldwin and Jon Bernthal are also solid as two very different coaches in the story.

Overall, “King Richard” is a fairly safe product compared to Green’s debut feature film “Monsters and Men” (2018), but I recommend it anyway despite some reservation mainly due to the enjoyable efforts from Smith and several other main cast members. After all, considering that how much Venus and Serena Williams were involved in the production of the film (They are two of its several executive producers), it is probably not possible for us to expect the movie to take a warts-and-all approach to the story and characters from the beginning, so I will not grumble about its inherent flaws for now, and I will just remember those good elements in the film.

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