The review of A Winning Family – King Richard, the film starring Will Smith as Richard Williams, who with his determination transformed his daughters Serena and Venus into tennis legends.
On board a shabby minibus animated by a deep desire for revenge, Richard Williams is convinced that one day his daughters “will shock the world”. He is the “king” mentioned by the subtitle of the film, while the girls destined to revolutionize the world of tennis (as you can read in this review of A winning family in the room from January 13) are Serena and Venus Williams, probably the two strongest tennis players ever. Directs Reinaldo Marcus Green who has two projects behind him such as Monsters and Men (presented at Sundance in 2018) and Joe Bell in 2020 produced by Jake Gyllenhaal and Cary Fukunaga; titles that reveal a precise identity together with the first episodes of the Top Boy series, directed by him. Here he thinks about producing it Will Smith who also cuts the part of the protagonist, that prophetic and determined King Richard who will be the flame of Williams sisters, involved in the project as executive producers. The story that comes out is not so much the sporting parable of the two tennis legends, as the celebratory portrait of a man who was everything for them: father-boss, coach, motivator, agent. Cumbersome, contradictory, but determined as only dreamers know how to be.
A story of dedication and redemption
“Whoever stands idle can only dream” insists on repeating Richard Williams to his daughters as he accompanies them to train on the abandoned fields of Compton, California. A winning family – King Richard is basically the epic of a dreamer who, in the rain and the sun, will persist in training the newly teenagers with rackets and deflated balls. Serena and Venus Williams. All around is the noisy Williams family: five sisters, a father Richard who grew up in the segregationist area of Louisiana and inclined to plan everything, and a mother Oracene, who will follow them on the fields, training them, inventing strategies and trying game tactics, always first. line in the stands. It’s the 90s and being a black in America at that time could only mean two things: ending up in the neighborhood gang or worse still being arrested and being abused by a corrupt and deeply racist police force. The Richard spouses will do everything to snatch those girls from the fate of the street and the classism of whites by giving them the impossible dream of “to represent every black girl on this planet”.
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The film has a very conventional structure and the sports parable is just a pretext to tell the umpteenth history of dedication, sacrifice, self-denial and redemption in one of the richest countries in the world. Taking center stage is Richard Williams’ sometimes mystifying portrait, a narrative that proceeds with mottos (“if you don’t have a plan your plan is to fail”) and motivational phrases (“This world has never had respect for Richard Williams, but it will respect you”), which relegates the story and the challenges of the two sisters to the background.
Will Smith is Richard Williams, fearless dreamer
In the more than two hours of the film the viewer will witness the private battle of a man against the world class of tennis, a sport for whites and played by whites (Venus will be the first African American to occupy the top of the world ranking of the Open Era); the racial question that underlies the entire operation ends up inside us and also the female one finds space (Oracene addresses his daughters saying “the most powerful, ferocious and dangerous creature on earth is a woman who knows how to think”): if Richard is the “king”, Oracene is undoubtedly the “queen” who is not satisfied with indulging her husband’s often irrational stubbornness. While the figures of the number ones of the time from John McEnroe to Jennifer Capriati and Rick Macci parade, dominating the screen is the figure of “King Richard”, told in his obstinate propensity to plan anything, including the entry of his two daughters in the Olympus of tennis.
He had predicted it in a seventy-eight-page long plan that planned each stage of their career, step by step. Will Smith takes on his movements and accent, becoming the author of a performance that has already seen him win a Golden Globe. An interpretation that will slowly convince the public, realized according to the canons of Hollywood transformation, enhanced at the end of the film by the comparison with the real Richard Williams who appears in some repertoire images: the resemblance is amazing. All in all an honest story built according to the rules of the genre, and which entrusts all its meaning to one of the final lines: “you are where you come from”.
At the end of the review of A Winning Family, there remains the feeling of having witnessed yet another American story of dedication, sacrifice, self-denial and redemption. Richard Williams’ portrait often exceeds in celebratory tones, while the sporting parable of the Williams sisters almost fades into the background. It goes better when the idea of wanting to tell the dreamer’s determination and naive stubbornness prevails. In those passages the film regains a sense.
Because we like it
- A classic story of self-denial, sacrifice and redemption.
- The transformation of Will Smith into Richard Williams takes all the time necessary to convince the viewer: in the end the actor disappears in his movements and one cannot but believe him.
- The story, even in its honesty, cannot break away from a conventional trend.
- One would have expected more space in the narrative of the Williams sisters’ sporting parable, sacrificed in favor of the father figure.