King Richard poster.JPG

The Oscar formula is a cliché for a reason. It's sure-fire, quality filmmaking and you know it when you see it. "King Richard" is all that plus just the kind of feel good true story we could all use about now.

Lovers of the "Ted Lasso" emotionally intelligent approach to life will rejoice in this film, not to mention fans of everything both the Williams sisters and Will Smith have ever done.

Parenting is the central theme of "King Richard," not tennis as one might expect, but for once, the focus is on how compassionate, engaged parenting can result in confident, successful children rather than the darker stories behind other big stars of recent decades like Tiger Woods, the Jacksons or even Britney Spears.

Will Smith plays the titular royal, but it's clear from the start that Venus and Serena are the real queens of this story, even as their father recognizes and fosters their natural talent.

Raised outside Los Angeles on shabby tennis courts in the time of Rodney King, these "two Mozarts in one family" represent just two fifths of the successful Williams family, and a loving family is clearly the key as all participate in the hustle and dedication necessary to build each of their future visions.

For Venus and Serena, it's to be number one and two in the world of women's tennis - first and best, a dream that quickly came true, but for their sisters, it meant the equally laudable pursuits of valedictorian, nurse and lawyer.

Richard, relentless in his unusual coaching style gleaned from studying videos, magazines and books from the top coaches, was equally tenacious in pursuing free elite coaching and circumventing the misguided Juniors circuit, ultimately leading to the strongest debut of a young tennis star in history.

That star was Venus, not the arguably more famous Serena at this point. In that way, this story may surprise some of the younger tennis-loving set, less familiar with the older Williams sister, but it was all-Venus-all-the-time in the beginning, long before Serena became a world icon in the many ways we see her today.

The rest is history (or herstory) as they say, since this is a film based on and sanctioned by the real-life subjects themselves, but that doesn't mean it's boring or predictable. Smith turns in another smoothly honed performance likely to run under the Oscar radar yet again making room for Saniyya Sidney, the young actress portraying Venus to shine in art imitating life, imitating art, imitating life.

Jon Bernthal, however, might garner a supporting actor nod as Rick Macci, the colorful and supportive eventual famed coach of the sisters.

The two hour and 18-minute film remarkably closes on Venus' first professional appearance, begging the question of a sequel covering the more sought after story of Serena's rise to dominance in the sport. I, for one, would welcome another couple of hours spent with this family and all their love and laughter.

As Richard himself would say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, so hopefully that sequel is already in the works.

Simonie Wilson, whose love of movies began as a child in the '70s going to drive-ins with her family, has been a resident of the Northland for more than a decade. She is a board member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and a Women Film Critics Circle member. She can be reached online at www.facebook.com/RedVineReviewer.

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