November 30, 2021 – Richard Williams (played by Will Smith of the “Bad Boys” movies) is depicted as a visionary coach and promoter behind his elite tennis star daughters Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) Williams in this dramatic, moving film.
Richard gets a sympathetic portrayal in this film as a man with flaws, but who has the best interests of his daughters at heart. He drives his daughters so hard to succeed, both academically and in tennis, that a neighbor in Compton, CA, reports him for child abuse. Richard's heated discussion with police about this complaint is one of this movie's emotional highlights.
Compton, near Watts in the Los Angeles area, is not a place known for tennis stars, and the neighborhood where the Williams family lives, is a tough one, plagued by illegal drugs and gang violence. Richard is shown being beaten in the movie by thugs at the Compton tennis courts where his daughters practice. One particularly bad attack prompts Richard to seek revenge with a gun.
Richard works evenings as a security guard, and his wife, Oracene 'Brandy' Williams (played by Aunjanue Ellis of “The Help”) works extra shifts as a nurse to help support the family. Family life at the Williams house is rocky, as Richard and Brandy sometimes clash over how best to raise their children. At one point Brandy tells Richard (who has cheated on her many times) that the only reason she stays in the marriage is her love of the children.
Despite his flaws, Richard shows an uncanny ability and determination to train and promote his daughters. His methods are unconventional, but they work. He manages to arrange quality coaching for his daughters, first from Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn of “Divergent”) and later from Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal of “Ford v Ferrari”). He abruptly drops Cohen for Macci, and persuades Macci to provide housing for him and his family in Florida.
Richard butts heads with both Cohen and Macci when it comes to coaching and management of his daughter's careers. He pulls both his daughters from Junior Circuit tennis matches for several years to prevent career burnout. The decision to allow Venus to go pro is a difficult one, involving clashes between Richard, Venus, Macci and Brandy.
The sports climax the film comes near the end when Venus turns pro and enters her first professional tournament in Oakland. The negotiations with sponsors, which happens at the same time, also reveal Richard's business savvy, as well as that of Venus, who was only 14 years old at the time (1994).
This is not a typical sports movie. It isn't all about playing tennis. It is more about the emotional dynamics of the Williams family, and how the family beat long odds to prevail in a sport dominated by rich, white people. Richard started out with a master plan to make his daughters tennis stars before they were even born. He is told by one sports expert that his dream of tennis stardom for his two daughters is as unlikely as having “two Mozarts” living in his house.
Richard is portrayed as a man who believes in his daughters, and in his dream. This film, in a very convincing and dramatic fashion, shows what it takes to make this dream a reality. The film benefits from excellent performances from all the main cast members, especially Smith and Aunjanue Ellis. Written by Zach Baylin and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, this high quality, effective and entertaining film is likely to win some awards this season. It rates a B+.
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