PG-13, but they use their f-bomb and lots of n-bombs throughout the movie. There's some violence that is pretty brutal coupled with the idea that the protagonist might be a bit toxic, despite being shown as a heroic character. We thought that our kids could watch it. That was probably a bad choice. Let's say that there are elements that are bleaker than standard sports biopics. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Full disclosure: I don't love sports movies and I don't love biopics. There are exceptions to every rule, but I tend to go into these moves with more than a bit of trepidation. I want to hold them up to an insurmountable standard that might not be fair. I'm going to be especially hard on the film if the biopic deifies someone who might be more problematic than the film makes him out to be. Case in point, for a long time, my least favorite film was A Beautiful Mind. So King Richard was good, but it will never hit my memorable moments list.
Immediately after the film ended, my wife told me all about the real King Richard. Not the King of Shakespeare, but the father of Venus and Serena Williams. While the movie lightly touched on this, Richard Williams had a large family before marrying Brandy. They would eventually divorce and he would marry a woman practically the same age as Venus. Now, is anyone perfect? No. The real world is messy and ugly and I've done things that I'm not proud of. But the problem is, Richard's morality and philosophy are at the center of this film. These actions tie to the central themes of the film. One of the key concepts behind the movie is the question of Richard's motivation. The neighbor who calls the police on Richard does so because he thinks that he is too hard on the girls to be successful. Rick Macci, in his frustration, accuses Richard of being a media hound, doing interviews to bolster his own profile. Even Richard himself jokes that he found out how much a tennis superstar makes, which is why he had two girls. But the movie keeps returning the focus to the notion that Richard had a plan that incorporated all of the fears and frustrations into it, leading to the game of tennis being changed forever.
But keeping in mind that Richard's real life history, maybe there is something about worshipping at the temple of Richard. I saw the same thing in The Blind Side, another one of those movies that hit my least-favorites list. In the film, the White family is accused of taking a large Black teenager to win football games for Ole Miss. The film takes this notion of accusation and shows how strong that White couple is for fighting these charges. But there's a very real chance that is exactly what they did. It feels kind of gross that you find this kid who is super good at football and make him play for your alma mater. I know what the detractors from my suspicions would say, but I just don't necessarily buy it. In the same manner, I get the vibe that King Richard just kept wanting more money and more notoriety and he was going to use his daughters to do that. Now, this is a very real man. I don't know much about sports, let alone what the real Venus and Serena Williams think about this guy. But the film kind of raises questions that it probably didn't want raised.
Not to say that King Richard in itself is a bad movie. It has some really good stuff going on in it. Like I mentioned with the sheer glut of biopics that the Academy Awards embraced this year, it seems like biopics are opportunities for actors to win Academy Awards. I will say, Will Smith nailed it. He absolutely crushes in this film and I think a lot of this is strategy on his part. It's really odd --and slightly uncomfortable --to make a movie about the success of the Williams sisters while giving all of the credit to the male. But it is because of RIchard's eccentricities that make the movie really worth watching. We know that Richard is right. That dramatic irony, knowing the futures of Venus and Serena Williams, allows us to bond with this character who keeps his cards very close to the vest. Smith takes this part about a dude who essentially has almost no resources and stresses how commitment, perseverance, and gusto make him the idea coach.
But Richard is often cringeworthy as get out. He butts into coaching beyond his abilities, which again stresses my point that it might be about Richard. He turns down what seem to be perfectly good contracts for "the good of the girls", but then seems to take the parallel ones. The film keeps writing these moments off as wise decisions on his part. However, because he goes right when you expect left, that's what makes it a compelling character. He's flawed, sure. But his flaws are somehow endearing, despite the fact that I would cut people like Richard out of my life in a heartbeat. It's because Richard is empathetic that we give him a little bit of lee-way that we wouldn't want to give in our own lives. We get the goal: get his family out of poverty and a bad neighborhood. He verbalizes it often as mega-superstardom. But in the immediate, we know that he will do anything for his family's safety. Maybe that's why it becomes significantly less endearing when he's in Florida at Macci's tennis camp. When he's there, the immediate threat of rape and murder are gone. It becomes about the sport. And that's where you lose me.
What's odd is the shift that the movie takes early on. The first quarter of the movie stresses how important that both Venus and Serena are to the family and to tennis. But the movie really gets taken over by Venus. There's that burden that falls on the biopic about when reality doesn't follow the rules of traditional storytelling. I will say that the film does its best to course-correct when this plotline gets dropped, especially in the final chat between Richard and Serena. But considering that the foundation of the film is a father's obsession with not molding one, but two tennis superstars, the Serena story does kind of take a back seat.
As I mentioned, there's a lot to like. The movie gets remarkably heartwarming. It makes tennis kind of interesting, even though that element was my least favorite. But if this movie was embraced as a work of fiction, I think I might have enjoyed it more. I don't know why the truth of a biopic tends to ruin things for me but it does.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.