Tennis is a sport I’ve never really cared to follow. Yet because it falls under the category of “sport,” I’m intrigued, nonetheless. As I’ve grown, I’ve become more at terms with the fact that, despite only really caring enough about football to actively participate in its leagues, I actually do like sports in general. Because what tends to interest me more than the competition is the competitors.
Take Cinderella Man, at one point my favorite film of all time. It is, on the surface, a boxing film. A rags to riches (though technically riches to rags and then back to riches) story about a guy who’s good at fighting. What worth that has to me, though, is the character behind the fighting—what he has to go through, to sacrifice, to get back on top. So really, no matter the sport, I simply enjoy what it brings out in people. Enter King Richard.
“A look at how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams.” – IMDb
Not gonna beat around the bush this time around. I will say what I have to say and be done with it.
Goodness Gracious, This Is Cliché
Y’know what this film reminds me of? Green Book. While not as limited in its scope, a lot of the structure of King Richard is pretty similar. With it are the general trappings of a rags to riches story/biopic adapted to the big screen.
Also like Green Book, many of the things presented throughout the course of the film feel as though they only scratch the surface. Information, such as the Williams family’s educational proficiency, is simply acknowledged and rarely addressed again. One of Richard’s kids is top of their class, a valedictorian—great. What of it? Their character is barely important to the story whatsoever and it doesn’t really add anything other than to paint the Williams as an unrealistically sympathetic family with no issues.
Then there’s, as it unfortunately always comes down to, the matter of racism. Prior to the rise of Serena and Venus, tennis was a white game. They broke the barrier for “others like them” to dream of similar ambitions. They touch on this passively every so often, though with only one tactic: words. Richard says much in this respect; a mouthpiece for the very clearly obvious passages of going against systemic racism with society. They just don’t go beyond that threshold.
Convenience is another thing that plagues this piece. If someone has a problem, they just need one or two scenes to settle it. An argument here, a beatdown there. Once it’s over, it’s over. No more having to worry about it. (This next paragraph will spoil an integral scene.)
During the first half-hour, a kid harassing one of Richard’s daughters continues to hound Richard at every opportunity. After he and his friends threaten Richard’s life, Richard almost goes through with killing the kid himself. Before he can do so, the kid is shot multiple times and killed (presumably) in a drive-by. From that point, these kids disappear for a little while, returning only when Venus starts becoming an observed tennis prodigy—they then are friendly to the Williams. Gee, that takes care of that problem!
Situations like this, where a conflict is introduced and mostly resolved within the next few scenes, is noticeably frequent. I suppose when it comes to problem resolution, you should either a) have someone get killed, or b) have a dramatic discussion/argument that results in a lot of crying. Ah, what I learn from sports dramas.
Yet I Had Fun
Sometimes, problems like being too uncreative or convenient shudder under the weight of wholesomeness. More than anything, King Richard entertained me and, at times, inspired me. To be more active, more hardworking, more driven in my own ambitions. If that was their goal, they managed to reel me in.
Will Smith as an actor is kind of an interesting sell. Sure, he’s kind of seen as this goofy guy who starred in Fresh Prince and generally clean hip-hop artist. Here, he’s placed in a film that very, very, very, very much wanted to get him an Oscar nod for Best Actor (it worked). A role set center-stage in the middle of everything. A stubborn, controlling man who above all loved his kids; not a soul would harm or take advantage of them on his watch. Smith did the role as well as anyone could have. Especially with that many angry monologues. Boy, there were a lot.
Was the prior paragraph a subtle shot at King Richard having Oscar-bait-y writing? Yeah, kind of. But that’s okay. Smith is a generally good actor, regardless.
But I wish to give credit to some other performances, as well. Jon Bernthal, Aunjanue Ellis, and Saniyya Sidney were all pretty good within their respective roles—Bernthal, specifically, had a firecracker role: short, but memorable. The title and scenario is clearly painted to make Richard the star as patriarch of the family, only it was the strength of the whole that made the product work overall.
To see the rise, with absolutely no hyperbole whatsoever, I’m sure, was satisfying to watch. To see the effort put forth be rewarded; a lot of emphasis also placed on values of faith, family, and education. In retrospect, these feel more thrown in just because that’s how Richard is and manifest into that “scratching the surface” criticism I stated above. Still, it’s rewarding to see how the teachings of a guardian affect the spirit of the guarded.
Certainly not a challenging or complex film, King Richard gets by through sheer force of emotion. By biopic standards, it’s about as standard as they come. Cliché, convenient, and fairly straightforward with its themes. What worth it may have to you will probably depend on your capacity for sports-driven narratives and acting prowess, both of which are strong enough here.
Is it a Best Picture-worthy film? No. Is it a good film, anyway? I think so.
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
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Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.