For the record, I think that King Richard is a terrible title for a movie about the Williams sisters and their meteoric fame in the world of tennis.
At a glance, the title would imply a movie about a medieval monarch. Truthfully, I thought that when I first stumbled upon the title in a list of upcoming movies.
Sure, it’s the nickname of Richard Williams, father of the famous Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. But you’d have to know a little about the story to know that.
In short, it’s a bad, misleading title for a really good movie.
It’s a movie that’s gleaned a lot of attention and praise over the past few months. It’s a movie very much worth seeing.
Let’s start with the story.
It was an accomplishment for either one of them, but perhaps more astonishing that these two sisters both rose to the top, first Venus and then her younger sister Serena. The tennis world had never seen anything like them, before or since.
It begged the questions: Who were these women? Where did they come from? And how did they come to dominate their sport?
It was the stuff of legend and, consequently, the stuff of a great screenplay. And King Richard cashes in on all of it, offering a glimpse into the story that so many of us were so curious about for so many years.
Will Smith plays the title role of “King Richard,” Richard Williams. He is the loving, caring father of five daughters, struggling to raise them in the mean streets of Compton in the midst of street gangs and gang violence.
He’s not a superstar tennis player or coach. He’s just a father who spots powerhouse potential in two of his daughters. He knows they have what it takes to set the world of tennis on fire. But much stands in their way.
At the top of the list is the fact there were virtually no women of color in professional tennis at the time. Tennis was a privileged, country club sport for white girls with rich parents who could afford the equipment, court time and coaching. It wasn’t meant for the daughters of a struggling overnight security guard.
But Richard dreamed the impossible dream for his daughters even when they were just starting out, hitting discarded tennis balls on a run-down community tennis court.
From the very beginning, King Richard had a plan.
It not only involved the training required for his daughters to rise to fame, it involved the education and life coaching needed to successfully deal with the devil’s bargain of celebrity and wealth that would inevitably accompany their fame.
Richard was strict and stubborn, to a fault. He was overbearing. At times, his life lessons seemed heartless and cruel.
He was an average but complex man with bigger than life aspirations for his kids, and only the blind faith of his best streetwise instincts to somehow get them there.
Richard is resourceful. He’s unstoppable. He somehow manages to overcome the obstacles that lie in his path.
It’s a remarkable story-- about family, fatherly love and devotion, and single minded, neverending determination. While this may sound like a Hallmark "After School" movie, it’s much more than just a feel good film.
There is a lot of pain and suffering along the way--including the brutal beatings from local gang members who make ugly, threatening remarks about Richard’s girls. It pushes him to the brink of committing murder for the sake of protecting them.
Will Smith absolutely owns the role of Richard Williams. As he’s shown in the past, he’s an actor of considerable talent with his eye on projects that matter, to the black community and the world in general.
I’m thinking of movies like Ali (2001) and Concussion (2015). Here, he’s an everyman kind of hero. A simple man. A devoted husband and father. A modern-day role model with a message of positivity and hope.
King Richard is a genuinely uplifting movie. It is a well-crafted movie. It’s that rare studio release that is more about message than money at the box office. And for that, it should be applauded.
There should be Oscar nominations in the months ahead for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actress, just to name a few.
Will Smith proves once again why he is still one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. He’s a nice guy who takes his craft very seriously. He’s a talented guy who cares about his work. What more could you possibly ask?
One final note: and that’s about the ending of the ending of King Richard. It’s an interesting choice. Definitely not what you might expect. But it’s the right ending.
We, of course know the bigger, real-life ending and what became of these two superstar sisters in the years that followed. They both rose to the dizzying heights that they were destined to achieve. All according to King Richard’s plan.
King Richard is in theaters now, and streaming on HBO Max until Dec. 19.