Truth be told I have always wondered about Richard Williams. Not an easy character to like as he was quite abrasive, but there is no questioning his dedication to his daughters and making them tennis champs. Nothing was going to stop this guy. Now this film by director Reinaldo Marcus Green, who has previously directed the feature films Monsters and Men and Good Joe Bell, and writer Zach Baylin, his first script but has worked on series like Girls and films like Side Effects, brings forth the father behind two of the biggest tennis players that the United States has ever produced. A parent who definitely did not stay in the shadows.
The Williams family lived in Compton. A mixed income and high crime part of Los Angeles which saw a high number of black families living there. This was especially true during the 1980s when sisters Venus (played by Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (played by Demi Singleton) grew up. Venus is one year older than her younger sister. Not exactly a city in which you expect not one but two tennis champs to come out of, yet it happened.
From even before they were born their father, Richard (played by Will Smith), wanted to develop tennis players. An ambitious, and some would say a mixture of crazy and overbearing, man, who would not take no for an answer. Whatever you think of Richard Williams he beat the odds and trained two daughters who not only became professional tennis players but African American world champions.
Don’t expect much about the sisters Williams. This film focuses on their father, Richard. It is a film in which Will Smith is the focal point and star. Instead of showing the man who was possibly too hard on his daughters, it portrays him as a determined but almost goofy man. Shapes up as a feel good film. The harder edged parts of his personality have been smoothed over here. Never do you not like Richard as he appears here. Instead, you totally buy into the underdog story fed to you and root for Richard, who so desperately wants his daughters to become major players in the tennis world.
The message here is one of empowerment. We see the threats and problems the Williams family undergoes as a black family in the United States and, another level of danger is where they live. They are constantly under threat in Compton. Richard, who works as a security guard, himself gets beaten up several times by gang members. Venus and Serena are in danger of falling prey to some of the dangerous young men living in Compton. Richard does everything to keep them safe and focused on the ultimate goal of professional tennis.
Tennis dads have earned their poor reputation. Especially in women’s tennis. The only ones we have gotten to know are those whose behaviour is abusive and boorish. While Richard was certainly no wilting flower, you do see here that if he had faltered at any point that his daughters might not have accomplished what they did. Especially as black female players from a lower-income background.
All of us know the ending of this biopic. We know that Richard is successful in making his two daughters tennis stars. Here, we get a picture of the man and his process. My only question is how valid or real a film is this when all the sides of the man are not brought forth?