King Richard is a 2021 American biographical drama film directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and written by Zach Baylin. It follows the life of Richard Williams, the father and coach of famed tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, who were executive producers of the film. It stars Will Smith in the title role. It is a movie, which I feel shows the true talent of Will Smith – an inspirational and loving father, who pushes his daughters to reach the true heights of sporting greatness. The movie gives us a Richard Williams who somehow makes the stories of the Williams sisters — their brash, tireless, fearless near-foolishness — plausible. A Williams for whom abandonment by one’s father is a mistake not to be repeated.
“King Richard” is half sports movie, half biopic. As such, it hits the sweet spots and sour notes of both genres. Depending on your perspective, this is either an invitation or a warning. Williams, is charismatically portrayed by Smith and is overwhelming. Obstinate. Bold. Savvy. Pugnacious. Selfless in that special way that somehow veers right back around to selfishness. On the subject of Venus and Serena, who he believes will be the future of tennis, he is also absolutely correct. Which leads to another of his standout qualities: He knows it. King Richard sayeth that these women will rule the world of sports. And they do. Williams’ fearsome need to do for his five daughters what his own father denied him is King Richard’s salient dramatic spark.
There are the overwhelming external odds confronting this family which are showed in this movie. Despite hard-working parents (he’s a night guard; she’s a nurse; both are skilled tennis coaches) and sky-high dreams, those odds seem not to be in its favor. We all know how this story ends, and the movie knows that we know, but so far as this Williams family is concerned, nothing is guaranteed — even as Richard’s belief that his daughters will succeed has all the power and might of a sure thing. The movie’s portrait of Compton isn’t entirely played for sociological seriousness. It becomes something of a joke to see white men, specifically the likes of Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) — coaches who take a chance on these young women, thanks to Richard’s persistence — riding into town, getting a taste of how the other half lives, looking as pale and out of place as ponies at a horse race. The movie is driven by Will Smith’s energy and the look of emotions waiting to explode on his face, which makes you believe that this man will achieve his goal – to make his daughters two of the greatest female tennis stars in the world.
There’s a strong, straightforward drama coursing through the heart of the movie, the predictable but satisfying narration of the underdog story arc — in sum, the stuff that makes sports movies such reliable vehicles for tear-jerking, riveting storytelling. The world of tennis, and the prejudices that come with it, proves a key ingredient. Here, it is a world beset with stereotypes that have a twinge of satire, as during a succession of scenes in which every one of Venus’ white competitors storms off after losing, like an entitled brat. The country clubs with their pools and high-end burgers, the Rick Macci tennis camp, the home the Williams are given to live in while they train: all of it stands in, not inaccurately, for the whiteness of the entire sport, the ease with which money is both a barrier and an expectation. It’s into these spaces that we get King Richard asserting himself as, well, himself, armed with brochures about his daughters, finessing his way into meetings with the best coaches in the country, all the while holding the reins of his daughters’ images and careers. Despite its well-worn triumphant narrative, King Richard proves convincing at giving credence to the idea of Williams as a fact already stranger than fiction — the kind of man you can’t help but feel is a real character, in the everyday-life sense of that phrase: a one-of-a-kind guy, hard to reproduce.
The children — Tunde (Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew), Lyndrea (Layla Crawford) and Isha (Daniele Lawson), along with Venus and Serena — lead highly structured, intensely monitored lives. (A disapproving neighbor calls the authorities, convinced that Richard and Oracene are being too hard on the girls.) This is partly protective, a way of keeping them away from what Richard ominously calls “these streets” — a menace represented by the hoodlums who harass Richard and the girls during practice sessions — but it also reflects his temperament and philosophy.
He likes slogans and lessons, at one point forcing the family to watch Disney’s “Cinderella” to teach the importance of humility. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is one of his favorite mottos. There is nothing haphazard or sloppy about “King Richard,” and it succeeds because it has a clear idea about what it wants to accomplish. The script, by Zach Baylin, is sometimes unapologetically corny — if you took a drink every time the Williams sisters say “yes, Daddy” you’d pass out before Venus won her first junior match — but the warmth and verve of the cast make the sentimentality feel earned.
In the best Hollywood tradition, “King Richard” stirs up a lot of emotion while remaining buoyant and engaging. It’s serious but rarely heavy. Richard’s advice to his daughters when they step out on the court is to have fun, and Green takes that wisdom to heart. This one’s a winner.
Watch King Richard for Will Smith’s power-house performance and for an inspirational story of the Williams’ sisters.