Will Smith dominated the 90s box office, creating a public persona that still commands the loyalty of millions. Bad Boys For Life was the last pre-pandemic smash hit, coming 17 years after the last instalment.
One thing he hasn’t been able to manifest, however, is an Oscar. Every few years, the one time nominee releases a movie clearly intended for the awards race. Some attempts were perhaps overlooked (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness), others a bit too cynical (Concussion and Seven Pounds), but a gold statuette remains elusive.
Many are predicting his time has come with King Richard, the biopic of tennis coach Richard Williams (Smith). Living in a poor neighbourhood in Compton, Williams draws up a life plan for his daughters, Venus and Serena (Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton).
Possessed of incredible vision and perseverance, Williams overcomes the snobbery of the tennis world and sets his girls on the path to greatness.
Even if you haven’t seen a second of a tennis match, chances are you know the Williams sisters. So, this story comes with the cosy knowledge that all will work out, we’re just witnessing how it happened. It also helps that tennis isn’t really the focus here, other than how good the girls are at it. It’s an Oscar-friendly tale of struggle, pushing against society and pulling yourself out of your situation.
It’s pleasant and uplifting, propelled by Smith’s performance, a mannerism-filled showcase of brash charisma, capturing not just Williams’ Southern accent but his blunt demeanour. There’s not a hint of self-doubt has he strides on to the court to do battle with the girls’ tennis coaches (Tony Goldwyn and John Bernthal), or scoffing at sponsorship deals that don’t reflect their potential. Even his conspicuously short shorts contribute to the portrayal of a man who doesn’t much care what anyone else thinks.
There are flaws too, mostly to do with anything that throws doubt into this feel-good journey. Williams’ wife Oracine Price (Aunjanue Ellis) is underutilised, realising her own fears of being side-lined by not really featuring in the final act. It’s also a predictably sympathetic portrayal of the man himself, with his sterner traits being understood as for the greater good.
Nonetheless, King Richard is equal parts powerful and hopeful, though whether it can deliver Smith his Oscar moment remains to be seen.