Arts & Leisure

“King Richard” is nearly royal

WILL SMITH stars with Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton in “King Richard.”

By Jim Tortolano

There have been many sports movies lionizing the accomplishments of great athletes. Rare have been films that delved seriously and thoughtfully into the people that helped those athletes succeed and excel.

The “Moneyball” film (2011) starring Brad Pitt about a revolution in baseball strategy was one, and “King Richard,” starring Will Smith is another.

This is the story of Richard Williams, the determined – one might say obsessive – father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams who would one day come to dominate the world of women’s tennis.

We begin the story on the mean streets – and raggedy tennis courts – of Compton. Richard and wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis) run a tight ship with their five girls, focusing on education, dedication and achievement. The obvious tennis talents of Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) soon come to the fore and dad bends all efforts to them becoming the elite of a sport dominated almost exclusively by upper-class white girls and women.

There is much to like here. The script/screenplay by Zach Baylin attempts to depict Richard realistically, warts-and-all as a man with vision which sometimes becomes tunnel vision.

The best parts of the film are scenes of tennis action. Sidney and Singleton are obviously talented athletes as well as actresses. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green keeps the journey from obscurity to fame progressing nicely and there’s the inevitable happy ending.

Smith is an early favorite for an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance, and justifiably so. Ellis matches him scene for scene and should be considered for similar consideration.

What keeps this rags-to-riches story from being totally satisfying are the obvious untended details. Richard’s “other family” is briefly mentioned; he had several children from an earlier relationship, which he more or less abandoned.

One also has to wonder how the other three girls in this family reacted to being deep in the shadow of their star siblings. But we never see any tension or jealousy there, which seems to be a suspension of reality.

Taken together, this is a fine character study with insights into the power of family, belief and determination. A little more determination to not put a Hollywood gloss over part of “King Richard” would have made it truly royal.

“King Richard” is rated PG-13 for some violence, strong language, a sexual reference and drug references.

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