By Clay Thompson | Reporter
What surprised me the most about “King Richard” was that it did not shy away from Richard Williams’ faults as some biopics may do. The controversy surrounding his depiction in the film is something I cannot speak to with much knowledge, but I did appreciate that the film didn’t shy away from his less-than-admirable qualities. It also showed how his ambition and support helped to create two of the greatest tennis players of all time: Venus and Serena Williams.
The most attention in regards to acting in the film is given to Will Smith as the titular Richard. He plays a stubborn, protective and ambitious father to the girls. His plans for them and his determination to keep them off the mean streets of Los Angeles, Calif., drive him to make his girls the best players in the world of tennis, and much of the film revolves around this progression of the girls through the tennis world.
Smith’s performance is electric. He is able to balance both the good and the not-so-good qualities Richard Williams possesses with equality that makes both sides of him scarily natural and accurate. Whether it is his coaching of the girls to become better players on and off the court or his pride getting in the way of opportunities for them, all of his characteristics seems to come from a real place, and Smith does an exceptional job at bringing him to life on the screen.
Another great performance in the film has to go to Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene ‘Brandy’ Williams, the girls’ mother. She plays a pivotal role in the plan as the girls’ coach as well when Richard is busy, and teaches them plenty of other important techniques, yet she feels left out, and rightfully so. Richard takes most — if not all — of the credit for the progress the girls make, and she makes that known to him.
While her performance is a bit more subdued, Ellis really lets loose in great moments throughout the film, encouraging the girls or telling Smith’s Richard how he needs to change. Ellis is able to bring out a motherly nature in her character, and a fierce and justifiably angry Brandy, who wants to be seen as equal to her husband, as well as wants him to go through so many needed changes. It is no wonder both Smith and Ellis have been nominated for Oscars for each of their performances because it really does show.
The writing of the film also felt exceptional. While maybe not as blatantly emotional as some of the other films nominated in the best picture category, I felt the writing really helped establish the characters and their personalities, especially Richard.
It also gave them actual reasons for why they were who they were. Richard was so ambitious and protective of his girls because he grew up in a time when he would never be allowed to be great and was trying to make sure that his kids had that chance. Brandy was always feeling overshadowed by Richard and was able to stand up for herself and make herself known. I would say the writing never lacks in emotionality but focuses more on fleshing the characters out, and does a great job doing so throughout the film.
“King Richard” is a very solid biopic, following the father of two tennis legends in a surprising twist, but still manages to make the characters unique and interesting. Overall, out of all the biopics of 2021, this film making the best picture nomination definitely makes the most sense.