King Richard

Will Smith plays the titular character in “King Richard,” a heartwarming, well-acted exploration of the humble beginnings of Venus and Serena Williams’ tennis careers.

Serena and Venus Williams are two of the greatest tennis players of all time, so it is only fitting that the film chronicling their triumphant rise to the top is as stirring and powerful as they are. And at the heart of that film is the sisters’ strict but lovable father Richard Williams, also known as “King Richard.”

Raised in Compton, California, in a small house filled with three other sisters and two parents, Venus, played by Saniyya Sidney, and Serena, played by Demi Singleton, are faced with daily obstacles that limit their chances of becoming tennis superstars. But Richard, played by a Will Smith at the top of his acting game, won’t let these obstacles bring his family down, much less defeat his future world champions. With tough love and a strict plan, Richard coaches his kids to new heights.

With the powerful emotional core of “King Richard” comes non-stop audience engagement. One minute the tennis balls are soaring across the court as the sisters slam away the competition, and the next the girls are kissing their father on the cheek calling him their best friend. Viewers will have no shortage of desire to root for this wonderful team of Williamses while taking a front-row seat to the early makings of two world-champion athletes. The heart of this film is irresistible and unbeatable, no matter what the scoreboard says.

As Richard pushes his daughters on the court, two things become abundantly clear: the girls will shake up the athletic world with their talent, and they are undeniably the odd ones out. Being Black in the 1990s, the Williams family was met with glares from the white-washed tennis as Venus began to join clubs and start practicing with top-notch coaches. Doubted from the start, the brave sisters began to crack the concrete they played on.

Will Smith provides heartbreaking depth to the film’s exploration of these social issues, and when you throw in the charming smirks and snazzy ‘90s sports jackets, you get a crowd-pleasing, convincing performance. Richard’s wife Oracene ‘Brandi’ Williams, played by Aunjanue Ellis, plays a key part in the drama as well, showcasing not only Ellis’ impressive talent but Brandi’s personal battle as the maternal glue struggling to keep her family together.

“King Richard” remains steady at the helm of his daughters’ budding careers, following every lead he deems necessary for their advancement. However, as the Williams sisters move up in the brackets, an emergence of slight distaste for the leading man becomes evident in both his family members and the audience. Richard has trouble letting go of the reins when it comes to the girls’ playing, leading to repeated “don’t do that” moments that ultimately build to some intense family interaction.

Films can easily become slightly repetitive if their runtimes are just a bit too long, as is the case with “King Richard.” Through all the thrills and emotions bouncing between future champions at high speeds on the tennis court, I was surprised to find myself checking my watch. Luckily, the film effortlessly sweeps viewers off their feet as the last half hour unfolds, leaving the moments of tedious fatherly orders as a reminder of the Williams family’s ability to overcome negativity rather than as a defining piece of the picture.

Whether professional tennis players or strangers to the court, “King Richard” will touch the hearts of all viewers as it serves aces with stellar performances and an inspiring story. Its tribute to the queens of tennis and the man who dedicated his life to get them their thrones defeats any bitterness in the theater — game, set, match.

Arkansas Traveler Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Where to watch: In theaters or on HBO Max

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