The holiday season is here and for fellow film fanatics like myself, that only means one thing; award season is also upon us. Even with the array of movies that have been released throughout the year already accumulating Oscar buzz, there is one movie that has just entered the Academy Award foot race and is making great strides.
King Richard is the newly released biopic about Richard Williams, a man originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, who comes up with a detailed and intricate plan to literally create two of the greatest tennis stars that the world has ever seen. He does just that by being the father and coach to two world-renowned legends; Venus and Serena Williams. This story follows the adversities of their family growing up in Compton, California, the endeavors to find a coach that will help them become professionals, and ultimately – successfully maneuvering through a predominantly white space and sport as young black girls.
There’s no denying that even though there was a vast amount of excitement for a Venus and Serena biopic, a lot of the buzz that surrounded the release of this film was due to the main star and actor who plays their father; Will Smith. Between his recently released autobiography, social media platform posts, and “entanglement” debacle, the spotlight that has been set upon Will has been the brightest this year than it has been in quite some time. Even with all of that pressure and publicity surrounding Will, that light was unable to obstruct how bright Will and his acting ability radiated throughout this film. It’s been a long time since Will Smith has given a performance where I was lost in his emotions and dialogue throughout. He has never been great when it came to picking up accents in his roles, so I was worried that a thick accent like a Louisianan one would be difficult, but I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to do so here. You can’t have a great actor or biopic go without a monologue that’s guaranteed to show up in the Oscar reel after his name is announced, and Will knocks this out of the park in this film. Or should I say aced it? Either way, he gives a beautifully complex performance of a father who is extremely far from perfect but is willing to do what it takes to make sure his children have a bright future and believe they are the greatest athletes the world has ever seen. It is not my place to say, but it seems that Will has performed at his best when he is portraying a father that is looking to provide better opportunities for his kids and is having difficulties with his marriage and/or partner.
Aunjanue Ellis who plays Oracene Williams, the mother of the family in this movie, does an excellent job of taking over scenes from Will when she needs to be the dominant force in the movie and provide that energy for him to feed off of. While Richard is known to be their coach and the one that has taught them a majority of their moves, there are times that she has to remind him who was also there to make sure the girls kept up with their practice, swings, took care of the other Williams sisters, and still had to be a great wife to a mediocre husband. The writers and directors do a phenomenal job of making sure to show off her incredible acting skills and make Will look vulnerable when needed, even if his name is the only name on the posters. I do hope that Aunjuane Ellis continues to get her flowers.
Even with superstars and seasoned veterans on the King Richard roster, the up-and-coming actresses that played Venus and Serena were in no way outshined by their co-stars in this film. The movie was a lot more centered around the pro debut of Venus Williams than I expected, but that is because of the age gap between the Williams sisters. With this being the case, Saniyya Sydney who portrayed Venus had more screen time than Demi Singleton who played Serena, so she had a lot more to show – but Demi still was phenomenal on-screen any time she had a chance to be. When they shared scenes together they had incredible chemistry that made me feel like they were real sisters and it was a beautiful connection to see throughout the movie. One major detail that was also shown from the two young actresses that is important for a sports movie is that they can actually play tennis. It has always bothered me in any medium is when a character’s playing sports and you can tell they are unathletic or have never played the sport before. It was clear that all actors that had screentime where they had to show their tennis talents trained hard for their scenes to make sure they looked great. Even with imperfections of some of the tennis balls hitting the net, it still looked as believable as it could. I also don’t watch tennis on the regular so I am sure there is someone who watches tennis religiously that might have been offended by this movie’s tennis playing abilities. To that, I Kanye shrug.
It was even more important from someone who was supposed to coach them so I was really looking for it with actor Jon Bernthal. Jon, who plays coach Ric Maci, was an excellent attribute to the cast and brought such joyful energy to the movie that had been a very emotional journey to that point. With him usually being cast as a gritty or tough character due to his facial features and his notoriously known casting as The Punisher, he rarely gets the chance to show how he can be a gentle and soft-spoken character like this one. This was a great change of pace for him and I hope that he gets a chance to play more roles like this one. If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend checking out his Hot Ones interview.
While King Richard did have dramatic scenes and spectacular acting that captivated me, there’s no denying that it felt like every other sports biopic. Once you’ve seen one sports biopic, you’ve seen them all; it’s just always the unknown information of the well-known stories that fill the movie and finding the right actors that look enough like the people they are portraying. That’s what always makes it fun to see raw footage and pictures of the real people in the end credits.
There is no question that King Richard is going to be in the running for Best Picture in the forthcoming Acadamy Awards, and it is deserved. It is far from a perfect film, but it has a lot of emotion, great dialogue, beautiful pacing for a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie, and this just might be the movie that gets our Fresh Prince his first Oscar. Is this his absolute best performance? I still thank that is Ali, but I believe that this is his best shot to add that golden statuette to his vast collection of awards. There are many movies to still be released for the year that will add names to the Best Actor race, but Will Smith is currently in pole position. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store.
Elijah Horton is a Long Island born, Orlando-based writer and photographer. Since he was a kid, Elijah has had a deep passion for movies, music, and photography.
That passion led him to Full Sail where he graduated with a film degree and a desire to make a film of his own one day. For now he’s just pretty good at writing about them.