King Richard Is A Feel-Good Yet Average Sports Biopic

Bolstered by a solid performance by Will Smith, King Richard is a feel-good, charming sports biopic that uplifts but never reaches its full potential.

Sports films typically always have a hopeful slant. No matter what the obstacles or how long it takes to get through them, the athletes at the center of the story persevere, thrive, and succeed. This is certainly the case in King Richard, though audiences might be surprised to find that the film isn’t focused on Venus or Serena Williams, the world-renowned tennis players, but on their father Richard. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green from a screenplay by Zach Baylin, King Richard is a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t really take any risks. Bolstered by a solid performance by Will Smith, King Richard is a feel-good, charming sports biopic that uplifts but never reaches its full potential.

King Richard follows the titular character (Smith) as he hustles, coaches, and pushes his daughters — Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), two of five sisters in the Williams household — towards professional tennis careers. Richard wastes no time, pitching their talent to notable names in the tennis industry in a bid to get them coaches for free. The Compton-based family can’t afford the outrageous fees and equipment that wealthy rich white families can so easily spend on, and so Richard has a plan. On the road toward getting Venus and Serena what they need to succeed (including plenty of study and recreational time), Richard is always on the move and with a vision of the future. That often meant clashing with others, including his wife Oracene “Brandy” Price (Aunjanue Ellis) and Coach Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal), about what is and isn’t best for his daughters. 

Related: Will Smith Takes Venus & Serena To Tennis In New King Richard Image

The film alludes to Richard and Brandy’s marital issues, hinting there is far more beneath the surface than viewers are privy to. However, its focus never strays from Richard’s efforts to ensure his star athlete daughters are working hard, staying humble, and getting what they need to go pro. That leaves King Richard with some holes in it in terms of getting a fully realized portrayal of the Williams patriarch, but the story does make sure to show Richard’s layers, opting to show him as a flawed person rather than painting him in a perfect light. The story, however, is perhaps too laser-focused on the tennis aspect of it all, which is apt since it’s a sports movie, but it could have delved a lot deeper than it does. 

Rather, King Richard is occupied with being overly sentimental and shies away from a more authentic portrayal of its title character, offering only glimpses into his backstory. The film does showcase why he works so hard, why he puts in so much effort, even when Baylin’s script leans more heavily into certain stereotypes about hard work and success. What’s more, certain scenes depicting Richard as a man who is always being beaten down by others — his father and local teen boys who make advances on one of his daughters included — don’t always work. The script often prefers to explain things to the audience, and Green’s direction doesn’t always elevate the material to make up for it in the visual aspects of the storytelling. All that said, King Richard does have a lot of charisma, a soulful spark and a good pace that will keep audiences watching. There’s a lot of humor and plenty of emotions, which keep the film afloat. 

Smith’s portrayal leans into Richard’s often stoic, frustrating characteristics, all the while maintaining a buoyant and passionate outlook on his daughters’ careers. This role is great for Smith, who in the past has done drama and comedy with little room for both in the same project. King Richard sees him balancing each genre without losing sight of the person being portrayed. Though given less screen time and bonding moments with her onscreen daughters, Aunjanue Ellis gives a moving, thoughtful performance as Brandy. Bernthal’s arrival as Rick Macci provides the film with some additional levity. While he and Richard are different in approaching Venus’ career, in particular, Bernthal’s exasperated Macci makes their interactions endearing. When the focus does shift to them, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton do the most with the material they’re given (which isn’t too much save for a few pivotal and emotional scenes for Sidney, in particular). 

King Richard is ultimately a feel-good sports film about Richard Williams’ efforts and struggles to get Venus and Serena the tools they need to compete professionally, at any cost. The film is enjoyable while it lasts, though it glosses over certain issues it brings up throughout, often to the detriment of its story. There isn’t much beyond the surface here, and that’s fine for what King Richard aims for, so long as viewers don’t expect anything more than what it’s offering. 

Next: Will Smith Was Paid $40 Million For King Richard

King Richard had its Middleburg Film Festival premiere on October 14, 2021. The film will be released in theaters on November 19, 2021. It will also be available to stream on HBO Max that same day. It’s 138 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some violence, strong language, a sexual reference and brief drug references. 

Our Rating:

3 out of 5 (Good)

  • King Richard (2021)Release date: Nov 19, 2021

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