The Reel Review
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Williams show! Will Smith stars in this biopic about Richard Williams and the many obstacles he overcame to create the historic tennis dynasty with his daughters Venus and Serena. The film traces their early years in impoverished Compton, California, leading up to Venus’ 1994 pro circuit debut.
With a fairly routine screenplay, it is the acting that breathes life into this otherwise paint-by-the-numbers biopic. Smith is terrific as the protective, outspoken and at times frustratingly tempestuous papa bear determined to make his daughters champions while giving them a balanced home life. Aunjanue Ellis (Quantico, If Beale Street Could Talk) is equally impressive as the ever-steady, family matriarch Oracene, with Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton both giving heartfelt performances as the eager to prove herself Venus, and Serena, who in the shadow of her older sister, quietly pursues her own dream of being the greatest women’s tennis player of all time.
With a closing credit song from Beyoncé, the inspirational film culminates in Venus’ pro debut at the 1994 Bank of the West tournament. While the two and a half hour film is about 30 minutes too long, it does give an interesting glimpse inside both the Williams family and the high-pressure world of professional tennis. Stick around for the closing credits – Richard’s home videos of their early years and archival footage of Venus and Serena’s subsequent success illustrates the impressive attention to detail the filmmakers took with this story.
• Serena and Venus Williams are the top two women’s tennis player career earners of all time, earning a respective $94 and $42 million in prize money.
• Richard Williams intentionally moved his family from Long Beach to Compton, believing life in the ghetto would give his daughters a fighter mentality. Tennis coach Rick Massi says Richard would routinely put broken glass at the back of the court to keep Venus and Serena from going too far back during matches.
• Yetunde Williams, the oldest of the Williams sisters, was tragically killed in a September 2003 drive-by shooting in Compton, California, when gang members opened fire on a car she and her boyfriend were in, mistaking them for a rival gang. The shooting took place just a couple of miles from the tennis courts where Richard trained Venus and Serena as children.