If you’re at all into tennis, this is a must see. Even if you’re not, you can’t help but be aware of the amazing Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. King Richard is their origin story, and at the center is their father Richard played by Will Smith in what is sure to be an awards contender performance. I remember when they exploded onto the scene in the 90s. The media made a lot of their dad and his presence and his style. A lot of it was not positive. This film serves as a corrective to that depiction, showing a devoted and driven father with an audacious plan, a family who bought into his dream for them, and two extremely talented young Black girls who broke the mold when it came to the polite white tennis world. It’s a totally uplifting flick!

Before the movie has started Williams has written a 78-page plan for his girls’ success. He and they are absolutely convinced that they are the future of tennis and are destined to be the greatest players the sport has known. That they live in the dangerous and poor town of Compton, California isn’t going to stop them. He pushes them on the court and off. Their schoolwork is equally important to their training and every moment with him is a teachable moment. We get glimpses into his psyche when he gets roughed up while defending his oldest daughter and he tells his family about a beating he took as a young man and his own father watching and walking away from it. He’ll never be that dad.

The film charts the sisters’ rise from the public courts where they train with their Dad (and Mom played by the wonderful Aunjanue Ellis, The Help, “Lovecraft Country”), through their years in the Juniors, to getting a real coach, and finally to Venus’s first professional match where she made it to the finals against the world’s number one player. And through it all Dad is there, pushing them to be their best, but always telling them as they walk onto the court to have fun. He even fights with the pro coach about them being able to just be kids. As gruff and pushy and unyielding as he is at times, there is a genuine love for his children that shines through.

Will Smith is the star of the film, but the girls who play the sisters are also quite good. It’s surely an underdog story, and we all know the outcome, but its telling as the story of a father with a plan that sounded utterly impossible and his ultimate vindication is extremely satisfying. I highly recommend this one to wide audiences, especially tennis lovers.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: I’m a big fan of tennis and the Williams sisters so I definitely appreciate the additional backstory. And Smith and his co-stars do put in some excellent performances. But overall, the film wasn’t an ace for me. Perhaps the pre-release hype raised my expectations too high.  I enjoyed it – just didn’t love it. -hb]

In theaters and streaming now. 


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