A month or so ago, a question was asked on one of the (far too many) groups I am a part of on facebook: What is Will Smith’s best performance (or what was his best movie, I can’t remember which). My answer was simple: We need to wait until King Richard comes out.
In short, it is a good thing I did wait, because this is easily his best performance since The Pursuit of Happyness (2006).
With the exception of their voice work on an episode in Season 12 of The Simpsons (entitled “Tennis the Menace” and one of the funniest the show has ever produced), I knew virtually nothing of the famed tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams (Saniyya Sidney & Demi Singleton, respectively, both effective), not even that there father Richard Williams (Will Smith) was their coach for most of their childhood, which is where the movie starts off. Sticking to his “plan”, Richard knows all he needs to do in order to be sure his daughters are able to make their way to the top of the Tennis World, even if it is Venus who gets the head start.
Of course, it is easier said than done, as Richard has to deal with living in Compton and making his case to those in Tennis that his girls are the real deal. There is a distinct determination always apparent on his face. He admits that he is hard on his kids, but there is still indeed love behind it.
Thankfully, the film does spend enough time on another important figure, Richard’s wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis). She is there to aid with Richard’s plan (such as training Serena when only Venus is excepted), but she is also there to remind Richard that, sometimes, there are some hitches in the plan as well. Her role is mostly in the light in a wonderful scene in the kitchen, when she reminds Richard what she has done for their children so far.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Jon Bernthal as coach Rick Macci. Bernthal has always been sublime at playing tough guys who take no prisoners (such as Shane in The Walking Dead or the titular role of The Punisher). Here, he is much more light hearted, and seems to want to outshine Smith in every scene they are in together. The result is a lot of fun for the viewer as I am sure it was fun for Bernthal.
Parents, the movie is PG-13 mainly for a scene of violence, thematic elements and swearing (including uses of the N word and one F bomb). Still, this is a feel good sports movie, something we have not had for some time. It is indeed worth seeing with your kids (provided they are around middle school aged or so).
At the end of the day, the film belongs to Will Smith. Unquestionably one of the biggest film stars of the last few decades, he nearly disappears into this role. I say nearly because there is still a little bit of that gleam in his eye, that charm only he can produce (even when he has his eyes squinting the whole time.)
If this is what wins him an Oscar, it would not entirely be frowned upon.