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If you’re looking for an emotional performance from Will Smith and an idea of how Venus and Serena Williams became who they are, look no further than “King Richard.”

“King Richard” stars Will Smith as the titular Richard Williams, father of Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), who already have their entire lives planned out by their father. Richard, who grew up as a poor Black kid in the south during the height of the Jim Crow Era, is determined to ensure that his daughters don’t grow up with the same hardships he had to endure. At a very young age, Richard starts coaching his daughters in tennis on the battered tennis courts of Compton, California. 

Around the time they’re 11, he starts looking for coaches for them, but since he doesn’t have any money to pay for lessons, he is unsuccessful. This changes when he forces himself into a practice of renowned tennis coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and shows him the raw talent and skills Venus and Serena have. Cohen, who is thoroughly impressed, agrees to coach the two sisters, but since Richard is unable to pay him, he’ll only take Venus for free. Now Richard has to balance sticking to his incredibly detailed plan for his daughters and allowing someone else to take the reins, which is a huge struggle for him.

The acting in this film was fantastic. Will Smith delivers a gut-wrenching performance as an obsessed man hellbent on ensuring the success of his daughters. Every second Smith is on screen, you can tell he’s fully immersed in the character of Richard. Another standout performance came from Aunjanue Ellis as Brandi Williams, giving an incredibly emotional and deep dive into the woman who was somehow able to balance Richard Williams out. Ellis is able to capture the care for her daughters as well as the disdain she holds over Richard for being so controlling and barely allowing her to parent her children. 

This leads well into my next point; I didn’t like the character of Richard Williams. The writing in the movie tried to have him come off as caring for his daughters and wanting the best life for them, but it seemed to me like he was just trying to live vicariously through them. He wrote out this entire plan for them because he wanted this for his children, not because they wanted it for themselves, which I thought was selfish of him to not let his daughters decide their own fates. During the movie, Richard is criticized for being overbearing and not letting his daughters live for themselves, and while he rebuffs that comment and the audience is meant to side with him, I couldn’t help but agree with the critics. If the film had attempted to look closer at the obsession Richard goes through and stray a bit away from the light-hearted spirit of the film, I think it would have benefitted the overall final product. 

Another problem I had with the film was the pacing of the story. It seemed to me that the writers were trying to balance showing the gritty reality of raising children in Compton and giving the audience a heartwarming story about the childhood of two prolific tennis players. There were moments of real depth and emotion that I really enjoyed, that would immediately snap into a cheesy scene that completely broke my immersion in the story. I think either a dark, gritty story that focused on the hardships of the sisters growing up or a lighthearted romp through their tennis journeys would’ve been great separately, but the melding of the two together just didn’t work for me.   

Overall, I would recommend this film to anyone who wants a tear-jerking Will Smith performance and is curious about how Venus and Serena Williams came to be. 

culture@dailynebraskan.com