There was a period of time when inspirational sports films carried the stigmatization that the western or musical did. The tropes were endlessly parodied and to say King Richard is on the level of Radio would be improper. If the Tiger Woods documentary didn’t come out I wouldn’t question the film’s sentimentality. Thankfully the depiction of Richard Williams isn’t hero worship. His actions are criticized, yet validated to an extent that feels more inflated than subtextual. King Richard is a very much a family project in that the family wouldn’t want anything negative beyond public perception to be depicted.
Imagine Tiger Woods coming out with a movie about his father before the mistress debacle. The former king Wheaties worshiped his father in every interview. Still does. With the continuing revelation that his father vicariously lived through his son’s success, conceptualizing seeing that film a few years down the line brings a lot of things into question. I’m not saying Richard Williams had done that to his daughters. I genuinely believe in the films events. But something seems missing. That something doesn’t have to shape Richard Williams in a continually misunderstood light but it has to do more than validate his decisions every few moments for easy applause.
A family project
To my confession, my knowledge of the Williams family is minimal. I understand Serena Williams is one of the most if not the most gifted tennis player ever to step on the court. Being a black woman, stepping into a white court must have been an unimaginable challenge. I knew not of her sister nor her father. Now that I do, I commend Richard Williams for his unrelenting tenacity to improve his daughter’s lives. Simultaneously he’s not abusive like Mr. Woods. He lets his children be children. Richard denies multi-million dollar offers for the betterment of everyone’s education. Sports after all can and will be temporary.
Being tough on his children must have taken a toll on them all. I would like to see what that toll was. Two of the producers on the film are Venus and Serena Williams, Richard’s name I didn’t find attached. It’s likely given the depiction of how the press covered Richard’s image in the film they wanted the world to understand their father. I understand him, job well done on that front. Still, I’m not a fan of the love letter film. It’s wonderful to look up to people as an inspiration, but to be inspired is to see a person, not an icon.
I’m genuinely uplifted when a person’s flaws can be a part of their persona, that makes their strengths more noble. Adversity challenges us. What challenge did the girls have to face? Whenever I see them on camera they’re smiling and playing. We’ve all been kids. There’s tons of smiling and playing, but there’s heartache in between. Living in the ghetto is tragedy enough, but they seem miraculously chipper throughout the entire film.
Something feels missing amidst all its joy
The only moments the daughters aren’t giggling is during Will Smith’s Oscar moment. He informs Venus (Saniyya Sidney) in a tearful monologue that every little black girl is looking up to her for tomorrow’s match. Gee, no pressure dad. First, if this scene really happened, how damaging would that be to a kid’s psyche? Obviously Venus Williams is a tougher person than I could ever be. Even so, chill on the pressure man! I guess that’s Richard’s character flaw but it’s not his flaw in particular that seems off.
Compromise comes with everything. If I were ever to make a film about my father I’d tell almost everything, since he’s an honorable man with nothing to hide. Still, there’s a few things that go beneath the surface I wouldn’t want to unearth to the world since the world wouldn’t understand. I know my compromise to make a measured picture about my dad that would still go incredibly deep that would be more meaningful that the typical inspirational Saturday matinee. The settlement Serena and Venus came to is completely understandable. But it robs any real meaning from the narrative.
A love letter that’s too loving
The sentimentality of the tropes reaches the point that makes me roll my eyes. It’s the same stuff I’ve seen in uplifting sports flicks for years. There’s the moment where one guy bullies our hero, whether it be physically or mentally then the hero gets him back. In this film, a news beat I think would have sufficed. Pulling a gun seems way out of place for Richard’s character, (if not the man). Later there’s the moment where the hero makes a questionable decision which pays off later in the end. In this case it’s a fart joke. Everything feels base level. The family project passes the baton between the Williams and the Smiths. In which order its passed doesn’t matter since the movie hits its precise goal.
King Richard is sentimental but not condescending. Yet it’s wooden because of compromise. Will Smith along with wife Jada are producing the film. It has a level of “okayness” that can pass as greatness by some. I didn’t know if I liked the film or disliked it for a couple of days. I think it was just okay, but could do better. I see its goal, to make us talk about how Will Smith is amazing in this role, and have some of us say “Richard Williams” is a great guy! Mission Accomplished.
The audience I saw it with applauded at the cued in moments, then gasped at others. Meanwhile I’m sitting in my chair thinking, “are you all really falling for this?” Good lord, have I become Jay Sherman?