I want to start off by saying that I’ve seen this film 5 times since its release on HBO Max in mid-November. Twice alone the week it came out. Two more times with family during the Thanksgiving festivities. And again alone in my media dungeon (on my living room couch) for the sole purpose of writing this review. So, I can honestly say that I’m willing and ready to die on this hill I’m about to climb.
*clears throat* Will Smith deserves an Oscar nomination…
Now, hear me out before you load your guns. Let’s take a step back and attempt to cast aside the unavoidable media circus that Will and his family have been parading in front of us for the past few years. Yes, an actual petition has even been created asking reporters to stop interviewing Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Please hold off on signing that until after my rant. While there’s no denying the fact that the recent Smith family shenanigans have left a stain on what has been a damn good career for Will, he comes in the ring swinging like Ali in ‘King Richard’.
The man has inexplicable timing. Just when we were going to send him to his celebrity grave with headlines like - ‘Will Smith says orgasms made him ‘gag’ and ‘vomit’ after having too much sex’, he puts on a pair of short-shorts and gives us a performance I can only describe as, ‘purposely farting in the middle of an important business meeting because to hell with the system!’ level motivational.
‘King Richard’ serves us the well documented story of Richard Williams, the father of tennis legends - Venus and Serena Williams. I say ‘well documented’ because, if you followed the careers of these icons or turned on the TV during the 90’s, you probably know about the outspoken and, oftentimes disruptive, man who raised them - I’m pretty sure Lavar Ball studied him.
If you had no idea, you’re not the only one. I’m ashamed of how much I didn’t know about this epic ‘rags to riches’ story. My age may play a part in this but; I didn’t realize Venus was the original star at 14, didn’t know there are other sisters, and I had NO idea how dominant Richard’s role was in getting them to where they are now. It’s part of the reason I found the film so captivating; promptly leading me on a deep dive for more Williams sisters' tennis goddesses-like content: (Raising Tennis Aces: The Williams Story, Venus and Serena).
How you play tennis at such an elite level with those beads smacking you in the face, I’ll never know…
But, back to Will. Admittedly I’m a sucker for actors taking on the challenge of playing real people. People who critics can watch video of, and then judge the performance based on if, or if not, the actor did them justice. Smith takes on an even bigger challenge because he’s playing the, now ill, father of two of the most influential stars EVER, who also happen to be PRODUCERS of the film!
From the Louisiana twang in his voice, to the limp in his strut (which Richard got from being stabbed in the leg with a railroad spike by members of the Ku Klux Klan), Will Smith understood the assignment. He shows us a man that seemingly only these daughters could love; a dreamer whose only motivation, through hell and fire, is the success of two little black girls from Compton - his girls.
While there are a few tear jerking monologues in the script, Smith manages to convey tons of emotional weight through a series of grunts and one-liners. It also helps that they surrounded him with a supporting cast who also seemed to have done their homework; Jon Bernthal as the fast-talking legendary tennis coach, Rick Macci, and Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton who must’ve spent countless hours of their lives watching interviews of young Venus and Serena, because they killed!
My only knock on this film is that it feels like they toned it down a bit. It’s clearly made to be more of a ‘feel good’ story of a father’s plan coming to fruition, rather than an honest depiction of his ego and the intense pressure his daughters must’ve experienced as children. It gives you enough to frame that tension on your own (tennis practice in the rain, shouting matches with the wife, etc.), but at the end of the day Richard comes out looking pretty clean.
Other than that, to me the movie is definitely a standout this year. A criticism I read was that it was too focused on Richard and not the two black queens he raised, but I mean, not surprising, it is called KING RICHARD, and again Venus and Serena are executive PRODUCERS of it! Also, they refused to be recognized as such unless they approved of the thing soo…no.
Rant over, you can shoot me if you want. Long story short, while I’m not here for these ludicrous Denzel Washington comparisons, it’s time to give the man at the end of that Red Table his flowers. Instead of shooting himself in the foot with another cheesy IG video, he let his acting speak, and it’s a voice that is louder than his corniness.
Quick side note, that Beyoncé song on the outro credit scenes makes me want to run through a damn wall. Check the Holy Goof playlist December 2021, it’s an absolute BANGER!