By Don Morton
February 18, 2022
Venus and Serena’s dad Richard Williams (Will Smith) is different things to different people. Some see him as stubborn and manipulative, the absurd and overbearing tennis parent from hell. Others as the devoted dad with a master plan who endured danger and ridicule to create the circumstances under which his daughters would thrive. Did he do it for them or for his own ego? Oddly, one of the film’s strengths lies in leaving this question unanswered.
Though the truth probably lies somewhere in between, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s movie opts for an idealized, ever-so-slightly hagiographic approach (the two tennis greats share executive producer credits). That’s just fine. Anyway, you don’t read a film column for sports insights, so I really don’t know. Cinematically speaking, however, this is a gem of a crowd-pleaser.
On top of being highly entertaining, it’s informative, inspirational, socially alert, and complex, addressing issues ranging from parenting and family dynamics to today’s insane commercialization of sports. And it will undoubtedly inspire generations of new champions.
Of course what makes this a must-see is Smith’s committed, Oscar-worthy and career-best performance in the title role. He’s done his homework and has it down, even the mannerisms. And he’s matched in terms of sheer ferocity by Aunjanue Ellis as Williams’s wife Brandy. The rest of the supporting cast is strong across the board. This a compelling, rewarding and feel-good sports drama. (144 min)