Review: “King Richard” – Will Smith ‘aces’ his comeback as the Williams sisters’ father who would turn them into tennis legends


Ben Kaiser, News Editor

Every year, it seems like there are always two or three biographical drama films, or sometimes called biopics. Some are good; some are bad. Some are historically accurate; some are spiced up for more exciting viewing. Most of the time, these kinds of films come out long after the person of focus has passed or retired.

That’s where “King Richard” is different. The story is based on the upbringing of Venus and Serena Williams by their father, Richard. Both women have just reached their forties, and both are still active tennis players. However, this film is more of Richard than his daughters (I mean, this film is named after him, after all).

“King Richard” is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. Green has only been active for a few years. One of his other films, “Joe Bell,” is also based on a true story about a working-class father who, in this case, walks across the US with his son in a crusade against bullies after his own son is bullied for being gay.

“King Richard” stars Will Smith (“Men in Black”) as Richard Williams, Aunjanue Ellis (“Men of Honor”) as Oracene “Brandy” Price, Saniyya Sidney (Fox’s “The Passage”) as Venus Williams, Demi Singleton (“Godfather of Harlem”) as Serena Williams, Tony Goldwyn (ABC’s “Scandal”) as Paul Cohen, and Jon Bernthal (AMC’s “The Walking Dead”) as Rick Macci.

This biopic is more on the story of how Richard Williams turned his daughters into the tennis stars we know today. He is all over their training, from finding coaches to recording every session. Richard lives by “the plan,” which structures Venus’s and Serena’s life, training, schooling, and even future. He’ll clash between coaches and his wife to keep “the plan” going. Richard’s plan would see his family move out of the ghetto and turn Venus Williams to a pro at only 14 years old. No pressure.

So first thing first, Will Smith was amazing in this. It’s been a long while since he’s delivered a performance this good. Maybe his best work since “Pursuit of Happyness” back in 2006. This film will easily pop up with some awards, and I wouldn’t doubt some Oscar nominations, either.

Smith’s acting is fantastic, and it stands out over the rest of the film. Emotions build up in his desperate struggle to get his family out of being broke and away from not-very-friendly Compton. Even at exclusive clubs, Smith maintains a charismatic personality while ignoring the judging stares as his whole family watches Venus and Serena play in matches.

Even after getting coaches, Smith’s performance will move to strong tensions as Richard disagrees and fights with the different coaches. It’s one of those “are you serious” moments after everything he did to get them to agree to train his daughters, only to question them. At one point, he pulls Venus from the Junior Circuit, which is where athletes under 18 go to start their tennis careers.

Jon Bernthal also pulls off a great performance as Rick Macci and rocking that early 90s hair and clothing style. Macci was 90s all over, and Bernthal recreated that style all the way to the man’s short shorts. Bernthal had to match tense arguments with Smith’s character, especially how Macci would train the girls.

The focus is on Richard Williams and his parenting/coaching of his children. Mainly, the focus was on the training of Venus and Serena Williams. The rest of the family gets screen time, but not much. They rarely have much to do with the film other than to remind us that they exist.

Serena even gets sidetracked in the story once the family finds out that only she or Venus can get a coach, but not both. There were plenty of opportunities to show Serena’s inner conflict of having to miss out as Venus got more attention, but it’s mostly overlooked. It’s acknowledged from time to time but never really going anywhere.

Richard’s parenting is something I can imagine being grounds for discussion over how he managed the Williams sisters. Yes, his intense training and “the plan” got them to become the biggest names in tennis, but was it maybe too much? Richard says in the film that he had those girls’ lives mapped up before they were even born. So, maybe there could be an argument of if the girls were forced into playing tennis, despite whether or not they wanted it. Maybe Serena wanted to be a doctor, and Venus to be a movie star. Why didn’t he have the other three children also train in tennis?

On the other hand, maybe it was the parenting that was needed. Not only were Venus and Serena well-trained players as teenagers, but they, as well as their half-sisters, were also well-educated and respectable children. Maybe Richard’s parenting skills were intense, but the results were impressive. I just think about how parenting changes with every generation and how today’s audience will see Richard’s 1990s parenting techniques.

The film also shows Richard in a compromising position as it seems he uses people to get his way. Once he agrees to sign Macci to coach Venus, he makes more demands than Macci initially agreed. Some of these decisions include moving the entire family to Florida instead of just Venus; or pulling the girls out of the Junior Circuit to focus on training and family time. It’s debatable, but it goes back to what I was saying about how Richard chose to raise and train the Williams sisters.

Another thing I think will be interesting to hear is how much the real-life Richard Williams is like Smith’s character. Even biopics like this will take dramatic liberties to enhance the audiences’ investment. It feels like they kept Venus and Serena as accurate as possible. However, Richard is more of a behind-the-scenes person, so there’s room to exaggerate.

On that note, Richard Williams had another family before marrying Oracene Price in real life. The film never mentions them, but Sabrina Williams, Richard’s daughter from his first marriage, wasn’t a fan of the film. She felt her father abandoned them and the film only gave half the story. Her Insider interview does raise some eyebrows to more of what Richard Williams may be like.

There’s probably more down that rabbit hole, but I’d prefer sticking with what I saw in the movie for now.

“King Richard” is an engaging biopic.

“King Richard” is currently playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max until Dec 19.