here is a scene and a quote from King Richard that just escapes me as I write this review. It was one of those descriptive, highlight-worthy scenes from a film that adds additional credence to reviews. Yet, hardly an hour after seeing the film, I can’t recall what it was, or where it took place.

Although available to instantly re-watch (the film is out in cinemas worldwide and at home for those who have an HBO Max subscription), I don’t feel the urge, nor the inclination to revisit the film, and scout for the scene this soon.

This feeling is probably the gist of the review of this Will Smith-starrer, where the actor portrays Richard Williams, tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams’s controversial father. One likes the film, doesn’t fall in love with it, and can’t recall it or go back to it immediately.

King Richard is set around 1994, when Venus — at the age of 14, and in her second professional match — faced off against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the best female tennis player on the planet at that time.

The outcome of the climatic match is history and, even if one doesn’t follow tennis, it would be near impossible not to have heard about the Williams sisters (played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton).

King Richard is a well-made, if not particularly memorable, movie about Venus and Serena Willaims’ father

As much as this film is about the sisters, it is not their bio-pic; that would be another film by some other filmmaker in the future. This film, (where the sisters also serve as executive producers), puts them one step into the background; they’re ever present, vocal, important to the story, and almost out of the spotlight.

Stepping into the light is Richard Williams (aka the title character, Will Smith), his staunch principles, his all-knowing, argumentative mindset, and inflexible, often problematic, decisions.

According to Richard, a self-professed athlete and security guard living in Compton, the burden or responsibility for the honing of his children’s talents, and the trajectory of their career, should be the parents’ job. Sometimes this becomes a recurring argument, straight out of any family’s real-life confrontations.

Richard is the man with a plan. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” he says. In fact, he wrote an 85-page plan leading to their success — mentioned time and again in the film — when they were born.

Such was his ambition: to make his girls the best in tennis — and such are the film’s own ambitions, to score high at the Oscars.

Will Smith is a shoe-in at the Oscars, as is the surprisingly strong performance by his on-screen wife Aunjanue Ellis (she may likely win if the film picks up the award season momentum in the next month or so).

The screenplay, by debuting screenwriter Zach Baylin, plays it safe by ticking off the routine sports underdog checklist that make these films engaging, emotion-rousing stories — and the very thing that qualifies them as immediately recognisable, rags-to-riches “Hollywood movies” from the ’90s or the 2000s (Baylin himself is a Hollywood rags-to-riches success story; he was formerly a set-dresser and assistant in the art department of a few films).

The routineness — none of it being director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s fault — makes King Richard the kind of film you’ve seen about a few hundred times before, but that doesn’t really make it a bad thing. Far from it. This is a really well-made movie with the stamp of an award season candidate — and a worthy one mind you. But like most of the award season bait, it’s also one you might not remember in detail a few years — if not days — from now.

Released by Warner Bros and streaming on HBO Max, King Richard is rated PG-13

Published in Dawn, Icon, January 2nd, 2022


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