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King Richard

May be Will Smith's first best-actor Oscar in a surprisingly-good sports biopic.

King Richard

“Venus and Serena gon' shake up this world.” Richard Williams (Will Smith)

We know they shake it up plenty as they become the premiere tennis players in the world, the products partly of their father’s ambition for them and his unorthodox approach to coaching. Yet, tennis in not the real subject of this charming biopic; it is about parenting skills that pay off and an actor who has the finest role of his successful career.

Will Smith does what I hoped he would—act believably the role of Richard Williams, infamous, overbearing father, rude, brash, and loving and insightful. Although at a point or two Smith pushes the accent far beyond what the end credits show of the real Richard’s, he maintains our respect for his accomplishments and his wife’s, Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis), both for bringing up model citizens and champions.

Richard had a vision for his two prodigies, even before they were born; King Richard shows the cost of that dream as they relentlessly practice, remain first academically in their classes, and have Richard ignore them when decisions are made. The film is expert at showing the dimensions of parenting, both the good and the bad.

The film also comments on the currently-popular topic of “burnout,” about which Richard is adamant he won’t let happen as the vulture promoters begin offering millions for Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and eventually Serena (Demi Singleton) but with overwhelming obligations that could cut in to school or bring on drugs.

Although the story is well-known and follows a standard sports formula, director Reinaldo Marcus Green and writer Zach Baylin keep it fast moving and realistic by playing to the characters rather than the competitions. The filmmakers, however, have an extended scene of Venus playing the world’s top seed that is a tense and as exciting as any other I have seen.

Richard is a complex father who gives love through coaching and encouraging study and prayer for his daughters (he has five). On the other hand, he doesn’t always listen to his daughters or his wife, is irascible and at a few times, irrational. Yet because he loves deeply and sincerely and doesn’t always let his ego get in the way, King Richard becomes a story of respect for family and determination to be the best in the world. And maybe the best actor?

King Richard

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men)

Screenplay: Zach Baylin (Side Effects)

Cast: Will Smith (I Am Legend), Aunjanue Ellis (The Help)

Run Time: 2h 24m

Rating: PG-13

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts for NPR WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.