Moviegoer: King Richard

A feel-good look at the man behind two of the greatest tennis stars of all time

By Diana Beechener

Richard Williams (Will Smith: Bad Boys for Life) has big plans for his girls. He’s raising five daughters in Compton, Calif., with clear goals set for each of them—he tells whoever listens that he’s got future doctors and lawyers in his family. But his two youngest, Venus (Saniyya Sidney: The Passage) and Serena (Demi Singleton: The Godfather of Harlem) are the ones he devotes most of his time to. Richard has decided that the girls are tennis prodigies. He’s right, but no one else seems to see it.

         But the short-sightedness of others will not stop Richard from helping his girls achieve greatness. They practice rain or shine on the public tennis courts, where gang members threaten Richard and harass the girls. Richard and his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis: Lovecraft County) work constantly and expect big things from the girls—their philosophy being that busy children don’t have time to get involved in drugs and crime.

         Though the Williams family have an incredible work ethic, Venus and Serena have plateaued in their progress. Richard and Brandy have coached them as far as they can and now the girls need a professional. Richard creates pamphlets and videos showing off the girls’ skills and drives to every country club and tennis association in California, hoping that someone will volunteer to work with the girls.

         It’s a thankless, terrible grind, but eventually it pays off. Famed coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn: Lovecraft Country) agrees to take Venus under his wing—but won’t coach Serena. Richard adjusts the family plan, carefully watching Cohen’s coaching sessions so he can repeat them with Serena.

As the two girls grow their skills, Richard’s ego grows as well. He believes that only he can get the girls where they need to be and won’t listen to anyone else’s opinions. Is Richard’s doggedness the key to success or does he need to listen to his girls?

An inspiring sports film with some great performances, King Richard is a crowd-pleaser. It may seem odd to focus on the father of Venus and Serna—the more obvious subjects of a sports biopic—but the dedication of both Williams parents has been central to the girls’ success. Both Venus and Serena, who serve as executive producers, approve of King Richard. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Joe Bell) condenses the family’s remarkable story beautifully, keeping the movie from dragging.

         It is because of these familial connections, however, that the film fails to truly dig deep with its subject. Yes, we get some nuance into Richard’s life and his other children, but King Richard is very careful not to damage his image too deeply. It’s also interesting that the film features Richard’s five daughters, but only shows his concern with the two. Is there no resentment on the part of the other children that Richard’s entire life revolves around Venus and Serena? Green also doesn’t focus on Brandy enough, a mom who coached Serena while Richard and Venus were out at country clubs.

         Still, Richard Williams is a fascinating figure. The film doesn’t shy away from his ego or oddities—Smith spends the whole movie in Williams’ signature short shorts and knee-high socks. But what keeps the film from devolving into hero worship is Smith’s nuanced performance. Smith walks a fine line, showing Williams’ devotion, but also the deep insecurities that lead to his egocentric behavior. Growing up in a deeply racist part of Louisiana, Richard’s determination to break both his daughters into a white-dominated sport is poignant and inspiring. Richard is at once a kind and supportive father, and a man who insists on getting credit for his daughter’s hard work. It’s a fascinating portrayal of a man who frequently courted controversy.

         If you’re in the market for a family-friendly film about achieving goals and supporting your kids, King Richard is a great option. It’s a genuine, funny film that speaks to the power of family. If you’ve ever spent a Saturday cheering on a child at a sporting event, this movie is for you.

King Richard is showing in theaters and on HBOMax

Good Biopic * PG-13 * 138 mins.