At first, I found it somewhat odd that a film would be released about tennis pros Venus and Serena Williams’ father, Richard Williams (Smith), and not about them. But giving it more thought, that’s essentially in title only, as this is most definitely about the girls and who they grew up to be.
True, their success was all on his persistence, but they had the determination, the drive, and most importantly, the talent.
I’m so glad this movie was made because I always wondered how Venus and Serena got their start. They seemed to appear one day out of nowhere.
Now, thanks to writer Zach Baylin and director Reinaldo Marcus Green, I know exactly how their story unfolded and you will, too. Surprisingly, Richard insisted the girls get educated before turning pro, which kept knowledge of these stars in the making down to specific circles. They’d turn pro when they were ready. Richard, and only Richard, would determine when that was, and no amount of money would change his mind about that.
Richard had a plan for Venus and Serena before they were even born. These girls were going to be champions and that’s all there was to it. Trusting in their father’s vision and always doing what made him happy, the young girls fought to be the best and make him proud. Through their eyes, he may have been a king, but anyone else having to deal with his ‘get in your face’ style of getting things done, he was anything but.
Night and day, he lived for their future. He was determined to make sure that they weren’t eaten up alive by the system doing that very thing to him and his wife. He also wanted to give other African American children someone they could look up to, so they would see they’re a part of this world, too.
Richard wasn’t only interested in the girls becoming the next two Michael Jordan’s of the tennis world but being bigger than him. Through his own ingenuity and gumption, Richard manages to get Venus (Saniyya Sidney) a coach named Paul Cohen (Goldwyn), who was coaching some of the best at the time; John McEnroe and Pete Sampras, to name a few. Cohen wasn’t interested until he saw her play, something the somewhat egotistical father knew would happen. He pushed the girls onto everybody who would listen and made sure their names were heard by everyone who counted.
Cohen only had time to teach one, so he went with the older of the two, Venus. Richard recorded the lessons for Serena (Demi Singleton), so she’d learn the same moves. At the same time, their mother, Brandi (Ellis), an athlete in her younger days, taught Serena all she knew. Because of this, Venus and Serena didn’t have much of a life outside of tennis, something not everyone who knew them agreed with. However, it isn’t long before a new coach, Rick Macci (Bernthal), enters the scene. Macci is very wealthy and owns a large academy in Florida. He negotiates with Richard. Macci will get the youngsters to pro-level, but he gets 15% of everything they make when they’re there. He takes them in and makes everyone’s, especially Richard’s, dreams come true. That said, Richard doesn’t make it easy on Macci. When all is said and done, Richard knows that Macci works for the girls, not the other way around.
What I liked most about the film is, not only was I getting into the tennis matches as if they were live, but the performances were fantastic. The girls sell the fact that they love tennis more than life itself and Bernthal is sentimental yet flawed. Worth mentioning, you do not see Will Smith anywhere on the screen. It might be his face, but once you watch the credits and see some actual footage play out (a real treat), you realize just how good of a job he did. And Anujanue Ellis, as Richard’s wife, could have gotten lost, but she held her own against a maverick, attracting her own attention in scenes meant for him. Glorious. Sheer enjoyment.
Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Written by: Zach Baylin
Cast: Will Smith, Anujanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, with Tony Goldwyn, and Jon Bernthal.
Rated: PG-13 for some violence, strong language, a sexual reference, and brief drug references
Run time: 2 hours and 18 minutes
Genres: Biography, Drama, Sport