King Richard, More Than the Will Smith Show

King Richard is more than the Will Smith show. Smith delivers one of his best performances (if not THE best, Ali and I Am Legend have something to say about that), but he’s also surrounded by a bevy of impressive supporting turns, one of which actually outdoes him in gravitas. Saniyya Sidney embodies the young, preternaturally mature confidence of young Venus Williams. When she faces herself in the mirror before her big debut, the moment culminates in exuberance, Venus shouting “Yes!” as she realizes just how equipped and excited she is for the task to come. Jon Bernthal stretches his screen persona for the first time as happy-go-lucky tennis coach Rick Macci, midwestern accent n’ all, infusing the film with a positive counterpoint to Richard’s occasional curmudgeonly attitude. Best of all is Aunjanue Ellis as mother and wife Brandi Williams, a strong maternal presence who balances a family teetering on the brink of paternal excess, Richard often too controlling and too in charge for their own good, no matter his strategic planning or prophetic brilliance. Her centerpiece scene where she finally confronts Richard about everything from his coaching tactics to their marriage is a doozy, and oughta earn her a nomination in Best Supporting Actress. Despite the man’s vision, King Richard the film often comes across as a story without vision, a standard sports biopic that gets by on its endearing qualities and unsubtle but effective social commentary. With humor and heart, and many entertaining performances, director Renaldo Marcus Green manages to transcend cliches to an extent. And though he should’ve won years ago, Will Smith is now the de facto frontrunner for Best Actor.

Grade: B+

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