Entertainment

King Richard: Why Will Smith’s Venus and Serena drama deserved the Oscar for best picture

King Richard has always existed in the abstract. You will probably have heard that Will Smith is in a movie about Venus and Serena Williams, that he plays their father and that the movie is more about him than the most famous sisters in the world. But it’s less likely that you’ve actually seen it King Richard. It’s a film eclipsed first by the simultaneous release of Smith’s skin-crawlingly intimate memoir, then by headlines about what a financial disaster it was at the box office. Such a dismissal could not have happened to a less deserving film: King Richard is much more complex than it first suggests and is also characterized by charm and friendliness. Smith, too, more than deserved his probable win for Best Actor.

He plays Richard Williams, a tennis coach and security guard who always suspected at least one of his daughters would be a sporting sensation. Forget that. He wanted it to happen, and by almost obsessive persuasion like a drill sergeant, he led young Venus, and later her little sister Serena, to professional glory, as if God had whispered a vision of their future in his ear. Actually wait. A tennis player said on TV that she was making $47,000 (£35,000) per tournament, which perked Richard up and prompted him to write a 78-page plan outlining the entire careers of his then-unborn daughters.

Despite its visuals as a treacherous biopic aided by the famous women it is about, King Richard spends a lot of time in these unsafe waters. Richard is an enigma of a protagonist, a man who is alternately inspirational, brilliant, ignorant and mean. He frequently undermines the voice of his wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis – rightly nominated for Best Supporting Actress – always refuses to bow to her husband’s space-consuming dominance) and sometimes seems guided less by his daughters’ potential than by his own pride.

Richard serves as the actor’s real showcase, while Smith evokes the character’s inner turmoil and outward bombast. It’s his best performance in years and a rare piece of actor-character alchemy for an A-lister who often has a hard time sinking into his roles.

Even before Smith became synonymous with tales of his and his wife Jada’s sexual entanglements — not to mention the recent revelation that he once had so much “unbridled sex” that he became violently ill — he was very much of the Angelina Jolie or Tom Cruise school from A list. You’re always kind of aware that you’re watching an A-lister gig. It’s not always debilitating, but it’s always there. King Richard is as close as Smith has shrunk his colossal fame.

The film is also something of a flashback. An underdog tale wrapped in character drama reminiscent of the glittering Oscar films of yesteryear, and just the sort of project Hollywood doesn’t make much of anymore. That it fetched around £50 at the box office might suggest they shouldn’t. But there is a beautiful softness King Richard nonetheless, from its visual warmth—Los Angeles has never looked sunnier—to the nineties jams on its soundtrack. A biopic with two tones of joy and courage, and one that doesn’t just feel like a glorified Wikipedia page (when I look at you, Tammy Faye’s eyes!), worth seeing and celebrating. The academy should follow suit.

The 94th Academy Awards takes place on Sunday March 27th with details on how to watch here

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/king-richard-will-smith-oscars-2022-winner-nominees-b2043964.html King Richard: Why Will Smith’s Venus and Serena drama deserved the Oscar for best picture

JOE HERNANDEZ

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