144 minutes, now showing, 4 stars
Richard Williams, father of tennis champions Venus and Serena, achieved the American Dream – and in so doing, embodies everything uplifting and depressing about it.
In this biopic, he is portrayed by Will Smith, an actor who specialises in making cockiness charismatic – see the Muhammad Ali biopic Ali (2001). Williams’ bellicose energy – through the magic of Smith’s interpretation – segues into a salesman’s jocular persistence when he has to persuade coaches and agents to put their faith in his as-yet-untested daughters.
Credit goes to director Reinaldo Marcus Green and screenwriter Zach Baylin for resisting the urge to give Williams a modern makeover. He is an old-school authoritarian who shows love by letting his children buy sweets.
Structured as a sports underdog story that begins with the family living in the crime-riddled neighbourhood of Compton, California, it shows Williams and his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis) going to extraordinary lengths to keep their five children productively occupied and safe from gang violence.
Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) possess the raw talent that will make true his dream of being the father of champions – a dream he has held since he discovered the kind of prize money on offer at major tournaments.