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King Richard

By Alan Ng | November 18, 2021

Unless you pay close attention to the personal lives of celebrities, it’s real easy to let trolls on the internet allow you to pre-judge a person unfairly. I didn’t know much about Richard Williams, father of tennis greats Venus and Serena, but I thought I knew enough. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green paints a fascinating picture of the man in King Richard, as the feature film, written by Zach Maylin, is all about this man’s story.

The film opens with Richard Williams (Will Smith) hustling his way through an affluent Southern California tennis club, looking for a top-of-the-line coach to train his daughters, Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton). He’s driven, determined, and very flawed. The film comes short of deifying the man, nor does it paint him as the villain or oppressive overlord. To me, this is unique storytelling because it bucks all the typical biopic tropes of stage parenting.

Through everything negative I’ve heard about Mr. Williams, it struck me how well-rounded and humble the Williams sisters were throughout their careers. King Richard allowed me to know why. It’s easy to criticize the man for driving his daughters to greatness, but then you’ve never grown up in a traditional Asian household either; he’s nicer. As much as he pushed his kids to excellence, he still wanted them to be kids.

“…hustling his way through an affluent Southern California tennis club, looking for a top-of-the-line coach to train his daughters…”

William’s sole focus was raising strong and confident women who would one day rule the world. Williams makes dozens of choices for his family that I never would. In hindsight, he was right, but then I still wouldn’t have made those choices. We also see how he went too far as an overbearing parent and achieved his “king” status, if you will.

For Will Smith, this is yet another role of a lifetime. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the role provided a difficult challenge for the actor… an opinion from a non-actor film critic. I’m not saying the part was easy, but I think there’s a lot of Smith in Williams, which means he’s already ahead of the game. What this allows him to do is focus intently on the deeper nuances of the character. For example, there’s a powerful moment when some gang members confront Williams, and he chooses to take a beating rather than fight back — not your typical Will Smith movie-star reaction.

King Richard is not a movie about tennis, nor is it really about the famous daughters of the titular character. Still, it’s a movie about family and touches on universal themes of parenting… arguably an extreme form of parenting. It explores the idea that parents live for the betterment of their children. Parents don’t selfishly run out on their family but bear the responsibilities of the lives and direction of those they bring into this world. Parents teach their children to look beyond the obstacles life presents and become adults.

All around, King Richard is a solid, inspiring film. It does drag at times, and I felt the two-hour and eighteen-minute runtime. If you’re a parent, this will challenge the way you look at your children. Challenge is good, even if, like me, you feel his parenting philosophy goes too far. I appreciate his unorthodox style, though. I’m just wondering if the internet feels the same way.

King Richard (2021)

Directed: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Written: Zach Maylin

Starring: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

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"…touches on universal themes of parenting… arguably an extreme form of parenting."

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