Early reactions to King Richard are pouring in and critics are very praising the Will Smith-starring biopic about the Williams sisters. Smith stars in the film as Richard Williams, father of iconic athletes Venus and Serena Williams, as he uses unconventional methods and his drive to give them a bright future to propel his daughters to tennis superstardom. The film will explore Richard and the sisters’ lives as teenagers growing up in Compton, California as they strive to reach the global stage.
Alongside Smith, the cast for King Richard includes Lovecraft Country‘s Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn and Dylan McDermott. Development on the film got underway in early 2019 when Smith signed on to star in the film and Warner Bros. won the rights to the project shortly thereafter. After multiple production delays due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, filming concluded late last year and now the film has screened ahead of its wide release and early word is coming in.
Following its premiere at this week’s Telluride Film Festival, early reviews and reactions for King Richard have begun pouring in and critics and in love with the biopic. Much of the praise is being directed towards Smith’s performance in the titular role, with Smith being catapulted as the frontrunner for the Best Actor race, as well as Ellis as the Williams sisters’ mother and coach Oracene “Brandy” Price and citing the film as a true crowd-pleaser. See what critics are saying below:
Stephen Farber, THR:
Although Smith’s outstanding performance dominates the film, he is not the whole show. Aunjanue Ellis also shines as the girls’ sensible mother, who has the strength to defy her husband when he gets carried away on his ego trip. Hers is not as flashy a role as Smith’s, but she balances him with understated warmth and wisdom. Jon Bernthal is also excellent as Venus’ savvy coach; he brings humor and a believable mix of exasperation and resignation to his frustrating battles with Williams, which he almost invariably loses.
Gregory Ellwood, The Playlist:
Obviously, it’s hard for an actor as well known as Will Smith to escape his public persona on screen. It’s that inherent charisma that made him one of the biggest movie stars in the world. But unlike his turn as Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann’s Ali, this is a performance he almost completely loses himself in. The fact you simply forget Smith is playing Richard is a notable accomplishment considering the film’s 2 hours and 18 minutes run time.
Peter Debruge, Variety:
Impressive as Smith is as the scruffy, slightly stoop-shouldered Richard — channeling the actor’s natural charisma into a kind of stubborn yet supportive focus — the movie offers him a formidable equal in Ellis as his wife. Publicly, Brandi lets Richard call the shots, but in private (where the movie’s most impactful scenes take place), she’s not afraid to remind him that the Williams family project is a group effort.
David Ehrlich, IndieWire:
The film embodies its namesake’s oft-repeated – if increasingly suspect – ethos of making sure that fun comes first.
Todd McCarthy, Deadline:
Will Smith hits a winner with King Richard. Playing the driven, eccentric and controversial father of budding tennis prodigies Venus and Serena Williams in the late 1980s and 1990s, the protean actor finds a new gear as he inhabits a complicated and gutsy man who trailblazes a path for two highly talented girls in their early teens in a sport where Black aspirants were virtually unheard of, especially in the female ranks. This engaging account of an unprecedented double-whammy success story for two sisters will play very well with all manner of audiences.
Smith’s return to more emotional storytelling versus blockbuster filmmaking has proven to be an exciting draw for King Richard since the star first signed on for the film. While early reactions to any film should generally be taken with a grain of salt, namely coming out of a film festival, the level of praise being directed towards the Williams sisters biopic and Smith himself are rather promising for the film. The biggest vote of confidence for the film should stem from many citing Smith’s performance from the film as one of its highlights and evidence of his becoming a frontrunner for the Best Actors race as the Oscars and Golden Globes.
It’s been nearly 15 years since Smith last earned an Oscar nomination for his work in The Pursuit of Happyness and the first trailer for King Richard certainly looked to be a good sign that the actor had found a role that would put him back in the competition once more. Though some of the early reviews note that the film isn’t perfect and highlight Ellis’ performance just as much as Smith’s, the acclaim seen thus far prove to be promising for both audiences and his awards season chances in the coming months. Only time will tell how many tissue boxes audiences will go through when King Richard arrives in theaters and on HBO Max on November 19.
Sources: Various [see links above]