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Thursday, September 28, 2023

LFF 2021 Review: King Richard

King Richard, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Top Boy) is receiving its Gala Premiere at BFI London Film Festival 2021.

Interestingly, Hindi cinema had Dangal, a biographical story of a father motivating his daughters into wrestling and now we have this real-life drama on two Tennis legends.

In the Compton suburbs of the early 1990s, Richard Williams (Will Smith) has his sights firmly set on superstardom for his two young daughters, Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton).

Despite having no formal training, the go-getting father has spent years painstakingly teaching his girls the art of tennis at the rundown local courts.

Venus and Serena’s raw talents are undeniable, but there is only so far Richard’s tutelage can take them. What the pair need is the backing of a professional coach.

Luckily, Richard has a plan (a 78-page plan, in fact), and he will stop at nothing to guarantee his daughters become world champions.

Like all the best sports movies, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s captivating biopic (exec-produced by Serena, Venus and their sister Isha Price) is at heart a tale of triumph over adversity, detailing the lengths one determined father will go to ensure a place for his children in the privileged and overwhelmingly white world of tennis.

Usually, Compton is represented in a dark and grim way, where the marginalised struggle to make ends meet. But rather than constantly portraying it in a down and trodden way, the treatment here is optimistic and atmospheric.

It almost seems like a love letter to the city, a tribute to the roots of not only the Williams sisters – but also to the people who contribute to rise above suppression.

Conversations on disparity and marginalised society are subtly weaves into the narrative, where it simply contributes to the backdrop, rather than becoming the focal point of the movie. As a director, Marcus Green stays focused throughout. Even though it’s about the background of Tennis legends, the story stays true to an uplifting family drama.

Through light humour, the filmmaker keeps viewers engaged but at the same time, slowly unravels layers to each of the characters. Observing the bond that the Williams have with their children, is inspiring and heartwarming. It motivates parents, especially those who are of colour, to never give up on their children.

Most importantly, it challenges gender stereotypes. Shocking scenes where the young girls are subjected to unwarranted sexual advancements on streets, we see how the father steps in to defend his children but does not allow this fear to barricade their dreams.

Even though it’s told through the lens of a father, the women are the strength and soul of King Richard. Will Smith is outstanding as the determined but helicopter father, who stops at no cost for his daughters to rise above the status quo. His eyes, body language and dialogue delivery are so compelling that he carries this strongly throughout the movie. Arguably, his best work in recent times.

The actors who make the lasting impression are Aunjaune Ellis, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton. Firstly, Ellis is extremely powerful as Oracene ‘Brandy’ Price, the protective mother and coach. Her presence is so solid and the camaraderie with Smith seems so organic. Her dialogue delivery, expressions and composure as an actor is extremely solid.

Sidney and Singleton as young actors are so intellectual as artists. Whether it’s their technicalities as budding tennis champions or emotional deliveries, their work is neat and formidable. These two are talents to look out for. They are dynamite!

Locations and objects feel like additional characters in the film. Tennis courts are presented to be a place of hope and aspirations. Similarly, the red and white vintage Volkswagen van acts as a silent narrator which symbolises progression. As they drive down the streets, the internal and external conflicts collide, wherein hope wins.

If there are any shortcomings to the film, then perhaps it is the overt foreshadowing narrated through the dialogues which detail how the girls are destined for greatness. At least five times, such lines are repeated and it becomes overused – slightly denting the cinematic appeal of it.

In addition, the second half seems to drag slightly and the unhurried pacing contributes to that impact. However, these are just minor flaws.

King Richard rises beyond a retelling of Williams sisters’ background story. It is a universal narrative of empowerment and hope. The performances, though, hit the ball out of the court.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4/5 stars)


Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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