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Thread: KING RICHARD (Reinaldo Marcus Greene 2021)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    KING RICHARD (Reinaldo Marcus Greene 2021)



    Greatness out of stubborn obsession

    This pretty warm hearted and inspiring sports movie, especially for minority people, concerns two of the most famous athletes in the world, Serena and Venus Williams. Their father, the "King Richard" of the title, is one of those helicopter dads, like LaVar Ball, who would not rest till his sons Lonzo and LiAngelo were basketball stars, and would not rest then either. The story of Richard Williams is equal parts inspiring and excess. And this movie isn't about Serena and Venus, though they're here of course, and charmingly played, as is their mother. The movie is about Richard. And he is played by Will Smith, who is going to get an Oscar nomination and may win. Where Reinaldo Marcus Green excels is in the ensemble work and the natural rhythm and flow of the scenes.

    This is a fun movie, but its uniqueness fades as you go along from the eccentric origins story to the conventional final big match. At the outset, when Richard is taking the two girls to after school workouts in a grungy court in the LA ghetto of Compton and braving local punks who verbally hit on the girls and repeatedly beat up their father: this is fun. It's fun because it's the best illustration of this man's deep, truly inspiring motivation. The story is he decided he wanted his wife Brandy (the excellent Aunjanue Ellis) to have two girls when he saw a girl tennis player pocket a $20,000 check for winning the 1978 French Open, and drew up a 78-page plan for their tennis stardom before either of them was born. He sticks by this plan.

    Most of the scenes show Richard's intensity, motivation, and persistence, and the girls' good humor. He is going to make them into athletic stars and they want to become athletic stars. Furthermore, they love playing tennis.

    Richard and his wife coach Venus and Serena, while Richard takes the girls to famous tennis coaches asking for free training. Eventually he finds one who takes them on, the boisteriously enthusisstic Rick Maci (Jon Bernthal), and they move to a nice house in Florida and commence training, all provided by Maci.

    The big "conflict" is that, following his plan, Richard insists on pulling the girls out of junior competition, choosing to have them only train until they turn professional. What may be surprising to those who know the sisters only superficially is that all the emphasis is on Venus. Serena, who will become the greater tennis star, is on the sidelines now. The climax is Venus' first big match as a pro at 14 against the then No. 2 in the world Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Venus ultimately loses, but Vicario has to resort to the psychological ploy of a long bathroom break to turn around a match that has started to go Venus' way.

    It's been pointed out that the staging of tennis playing is flat compared to the drama among actors here, but that's not really a bother; it still looks pretty good. It's also been noted that the hassling by the ghetto youths is conveyed in a lively manner, but the subtle racism the Williams met with entering into a white sport doesn't come though. That needs another movie.

    The young actresses, Saniyya Sidney who plays Venus Williams and Demi Singleton who plays Serena - both of whom had to learn to play tennis for the film (also Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew who plays their sister Tunde) deserve special commendation for the spirit and authenticity they bring and their ensemble work. Aunjanue Ellis is tremendous, always showing how Brandy points out to Richard the way he tends to grab all the credit for mentoring the girls, especially in a notable major speech that is an acting master class.

    Will Smith's Richard Williams is a modulated realistic portrait of the man. The Black English is the real McCoy, more or less. So is the bossiness, the stubbornness, the egocentrism. What he's doing ceases to be a more shtick of mimicry when he inhabits the role like a glove, so seamlessly. Will is literally less Black than the man he is playing, though, and there are ugly details about the original, omitted here, that may shock you to learn. See what's fact and what's fiction in King Richard article on Slant. And the accuracy of the final match according the Zach Baylin, the film's writer. But the changes don't feel like falsifications. They reel like necessary modifications to produce what this is, a colorful character study that's also an uplifting sports movie. After all, these two young teenage girls with the eccentric dad went on to open up an "all-white" sport to people of color, to usher in a new era of power and athleticism on the women's professional tennis tour, and finally to become two of the greatest athletes of all time. That kind of makes King Richard essential viewing. It is one of the most enjoyable American films of the year.

    King Richard, 144 mins., debuted at Telluride Sept. 2, 2021, showing at other major festivals including London, Indianapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Leiden, Sydney, Miami and AFI. US release by Warner Brothers, so in theaters and for one month on HBOMax from Nov. 19, 2021
    Metacriric rating: 76%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-26-2021 at 08:43 PM.


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