“King Richard” takes us to the beginnings of tennis excellence – Venus and Serena Williams – while shining on a fatherhood story from which the siblings’ bright futures are rooted.
Will Smith takes some hard knocks on fatherhood in “King Richard”. His lead character Richard Williams addresses the heavy toll it takes to carry off the paragon of a perfect dad. For Richard Williams, parenthood is no sweet, beautiful journey. His character taps into the in-depth nuance of a tough disciplinarian and ill-tempered decision-maker. He gets most captivated when he envisions his daughter’s sublime future career in the face of adversities. He is obsessed with it. “I’m in the champion-raising business,” to use a line from the film.
Richard Williams is obsessed with his daughter’s undertaking so that they can be groomed into tennis legends. His way of doing things to the proceedings seems unorthodox, which rubs people the wrong way. But it works like a charm. Against all odds (and logic), Richard maps out the path for his two prodigies toward their trailblazing careers.
At one point, Richard shows his family Disney’s “Cinderella” to teach the importance of staying grounded, regardless of plentiful accomplishments they have acquired. This is unapologetically cheesy, but it also reflects one of his fundamental virtues and philosophies. We also see him put the young Williams to practice at night even when the rain is bucketing down to challenge themselves to play through adverse conditions.
Richard’s legacy of methods is not for everyone, not at least for one nosy neighbor, who calls the authorities for an allegation of child abuse. To his dismay, the dad-turned-coach responds:
“You wanna check on the kids? Let’s check on the kids! We got future doctors, lawyers plus a couple of tennis stars in this house. I understand you gotta do your job even if some crazy-a## neighbors do call for talking foolishness. And I don’t even mind you saying we are hard on these kids. Do you know why? Because we are! That’s our job to keep ‘em from these streets. You wanna arrest us for that? Fine. But what you not gonna never do is come knock on this door talking about you have to blow their damn brains out in them streets ‘cause they running with hoodlums and doing drugs and things.”
At that very moment, Richard wants us to get a grasp of the way he keeps the balance between love and protection to fend off the young girls from what he points out as “these streets”. At the same time, we also understand how he ensures the balance between schoolwork responsibilities and other interests for his daughters.
In many ways, Will Smith ideally embodies Richard Williams in his traditional archetypal tyrannical and patriarchal omnipotence. He is an iron-willed but self-sacrificing father who makes ends meet with multiple jobs day and night.
However, there’s inconsistency in his approach as he expresses his hesitation about the sisters going pro. Despite his ambitious scheme to secure their place as tennis greats, he is adamant that they enjoy normal childhoods without expectation and pressure. It becomes clear that he touts the benefits of deliberate patience and practice as two key tenets to rack up success.
A contrary proposition to Richard’s uncompromising patriarchal attitude is also visible in the $3-million-deal Nike scene. A night before Venus partakes in her very first competitive match in three years, Nike offers a $3 million endorsement contract. Unexpectedly, Richard lets Venus make the call, which she declines. Later, she signs an unprecedented $12-millon Reebok deal. Perhaps, it is not an age-appropriate decision. But it sure is worth it.
As for Richard Williams, throughout the years he has become a dedicated coach of two tennis icons, he becomes a father first; a loving respectful father.
I see it as the ultimate sports-coaching fatherhood-winning formula.