We're not talking about thrones, hierarchy or pompousness now, we're talking about tennis royalty with King Richard, a biographical sports drama directed in his third turn by Reinaldo Marcus Green. Titular king refers to Richard Williams (played by Will Smith), father of current tennis superstars Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) who are just starting out in junior tournaments when the movie gets going. We follow Richard and family's mother Oracene's (Aunjanue Ellis) determined efforts to raise their two daughters to become successful people and future champions, from their crowded and humble home in Compton. Due to lack of resources and financial backing, the hustle to get a coach and eventually proper practice facilities takes effort from the whole family, including a very passionate dad.
Movies revolving around sports can often be rather similar and depend heavily on a very specific structure to evoke emotion out of you but King Richard and Green thankfully aren't that interested in copying those exact beats in every turn. There's some fine framing going on when trying to separate the game and its players as camera and lights go into an action mode when capturing the former, while latter are surrounded more by close-ups, balanced light in the room and smaller instrumentation by composer Kris Bowers. The dialogue in Zach Baylin's script and supervised by Green also saves the cliches for Richard's salesman speeches to coaches while it's much more loose and poignant within the family, creating a welcoming home for a viewer to come into.
In many other ways, the film does act like your typical biopic from the rhythm in editing to moments of life lessons that will make great clips by themselves. What is however keeping the ball in the filmmakers' court are the tremendous performances from everyone in the main cast; Smith gets to flex with Richard's ambition and at times unlikeable behaviour, Ellis might be the biggest stand out as there's a lot in Oracene that isn't said but is instead acted out, Sidney and Singleton do well with the sports choreography and Jon Bernthal (as tennis coach Rick Macci) seems to be really in tune with his character in a way that elevate scenes between him and Smith.
Characters themselves are sometimes left behind as we don't really get to know Venus or Serena's motivations or their perception of who they are, growing distance between Richard and Oracene often leaves her in a villainous light unnecessarily and the film overall lets Richard off the hook too easily in several scenes, almost like plenty was cut out of them.
Smileys: Performance by a cast, dialogue
Frowneys: Some issues with characterisation
Imagine making such a racket in your sport just to end up in Florida of all places.