King Richard (2021)

A complex, saccharine, emotionally-provocative modernization of Shakespeare & prism of father-daughter love, class, race, gender, business, & empowerment themes by a lens of tennis legends w. the best Will Smith performance since ’06’s Pursuit Of Happyness. 9/10.

Plot Synopsis: Armed with a clear vision and a brazen, 78-page plan, Richard Williams is determined to write his two daughters, Venus and Serena, into history. Training on rough neighborhood park tennis courts in Compton, California, Richard shapes the girls’ unyielding commitment and keen intuition. Together, the Williams family defies seemingly insurmountable odds and the prevailing expectations laid before them.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

A New Age Of Shakespeare

PTSD Of High School Lit. Purgatory At Very Mention Of The Bard: Greatest Playwright In The History Of The English Language Given Mercilessly-Boring Productions Of Unimaginative Literalism; Especially One Of His Best Works: The 1605 Tragedy Of Lear

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

King Lear. PTSD of High School Lit. exams probably come to mind for most people: The Bard’s 1605 tragedy of sovereign royalty downward-spiraling into phantasmagoria of destitution & lunacy as he becomes a proscribed crux of political machinations and relinquishes his kingdom to his Machiavellian young daughters. Considered by many to be the crowning achievement and finest exemplar of tragic lyricism in the English Language, Shakespeare’s masterwork – like the ~rest of the collection of works failing The Greatest Playwright [& Perhaps: Author] In The History Of Mankind – has been mixedly adapted to Film & TV. Omnibus, Mankiewicz’s House Of Strangers, Broken Lance, Kurosawa’s Ran, The Godfather Part III, My Kingdom, and The Lears have all tried to adapt & modernize the classic of King Lear, but have largely failed to stimulate excitement with something fresh, original, & new beyond imagination-less literalism any middle school play could muster. A bizarre paradox by the veritable real-world fiefdoms of movie studios with hundreds of billions of dollars to allocate in resources to many of the world’s finest creative minds motivated by money, fame, and the ability to create works that last for centuries without need of a full theatrical production beyond your TV remote, we’re amazed it took this long for cinema to produce a Bardian remix worth watching. The wait is finally over, though, in what might be able to inaugurate a new age and renaissance for Shakespeare: King Richard. A complex, saccharine, emotionally-provocative remix-modernization of Shakespeare, King Richard prismatically-analyzes father-daughter love, class, race, gender, business, & empowerment themes through a biopic lens of the humble origins of tennis legends w. a chef d’oeuvre lead performance: Will Smith’s best work since ’06 Pursuit Of Happyness.

The Modernization Of King Lear

The Bard’s Tale Of Sovereign Royalty Downward-Spiraling Into Phantasmagoria Of Destitution, Lunacy, & A Proscribed Crux Of Political Machinations Relinquishing Kingdom To Machiavellian Young Daughters Is Given A Fresh, Beautifully-Original Remix By Lens Of A True Story Of Tennis Legends

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Of foremost exposition and celebration is how King Richard modernizes and remixes classic literature to reinvigorate age-old mediums with new life and effortlessly watchable entertainment-value through the lens of how we crown new royalty in America: sports. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green & Writer Zach Baylin have managed to flip the Shakespearean epic of King Lear beyond the school boredom/daydreams and inexorably-dark tonicism into an edge-of-your-seat, pulse-rattling experience and event picture we want to pay to watch in our free-time by the lens of the true origin story of two of the Greatest Athletes Of All-Time: The 12x-Wimbledon, 4x-Olympic Gold Medal Venus & Serena Williams. Everyone knows the Nike-contracted legends of tennis, but few today – except those who lived in the ’90’s when these young prodigies grew up – know the father and trainer who brought the world’s eyes to them: Richard Williams. Before we analyze the Williams family & story, it’s critical to go back to the ages of study-guide cramming the night before lit. finals to run back through the highlights of the King Lear the film draws direct parallels between – CLC style, of course. King Lear was a brutal, masochistic, hope-deprived play on the cruelty of both mankind and fate with pervasive cynicism, nihilistic worldview, futility-of-aspiration, égoïste social darwinism, and betrayal weaved throughout its chess-board of characters. Lear himself was a Napoleon-complexed, materialistic charlatan whose reign’s enjoyment lay more in the power and prestige of royalty than the job itself of governing his subjects and kingdom. The complex protagonist valued appearances above truth/realism [paralleling The Social Media Age 400+ years ago by how influencers today fake private yachts, jets, cars, etc. they don’t own just for likes & clout], and rebuked contrastive opinions or criticisms of his authoritarian monarchy [again applicable to our world today by how nations like North Korea and third-world countries do the same, executing journalists and anyone not puff-piece editorializing their governments and dictators]. The power & awe of nature, politics, and tragedy progressively-humbled and broke him both psychologically and spiritually – learning to experience genuine emotion again beyond palaces in the form his daughters: the virtuous and brave Cordelia and her conniving sisters Goneril & Reagan.

Richard, Venus, & Serena Williams

Two Of The Greatest Athletes Of All-Time, Venus And Serena Are 12x-Wimbledon, 4x-Olympic Gold Medal Tennis Prodigies Trained & Parented By An Infamous Father Who Mapped Out Careers Day 1: Richard

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Lear’s mandate of his daughters flattering his ego to test them on who will take over his throne is met with faux-fabrications by Goneril & Reagan out of jealousy, avarice, selfishness, and aggression, but Cordelia refuses – positing true father-daughter love and refusing to subjugate herself to childish games of superiority-complexing. This is met with hatred & disownment by Lear [even being his favorite daughter beforehand], but he eventually grows characterizationally across the narrative to realize at the end that she was right: real family love (the kind money can’t buy) is far more precious and important than falsitudes and betrayal. King Richard reframes each of the characters in tonally-dichotomized ways – still keeping the broad strokes to their original archetypes and the play’s dark tone, but extrapolating it to the 21st-century in new ways and bathing it in metaphorical and physical sunshine while bringing it all to life through magnificent cinematic performances. Will Smith absolutely steals the show – delivering his best performance since The Pursuit Of Happyness in 2006, recreating of Richard Williams in done with surgical proficiency in thespianship nostalgic to the glory days of theatre by a skillset carefully-acquired over a 30+ year career. W.S. has been one of the most powerful figures in the world of cinema ever since the rapper-turned-actor first debuted to the world in 1990’s The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air of groundbreaking black representation on TV. The man brings an effortless authenticity, masculine charm, x/cool-factor, comedy proficiency, and gregariousness to every one of his many lead roles. Much of the labor that built the pyramid of his filmography was done by major blockbusters – Smith oftentimes reveling in the ability entertain the masses and boast the attribution of its box-office success as the big ticket item: Deadshot in Suicide Squad, Genie in Aladdin, Jay in Men In Black, Oscar in Shark Tale, Mike Lowery in Bad Boys, Capt. Stephen in Independence Day, etc. However, he possesses the ability to perform In dour, sobering, IQ-complex indies and biopics too with gifted range – masterpiece performances of heavy emotion & celebration of its subject like 2001’s Muhammad Ali, 2006’s The Pursuit Of Happyness, 2007’s I Am Legend, 2008’s Seven Pounds, 2015’s Concussion, etc. The comprehensive and bluntly-inexplicable disdain & contempt his festival-pedigree performances have been met with by critics and the awards circuits [failing to even have be given one Academy Award: one of the most-snubbed actors alive today] gives him understandable reason to avoid indies when easy paychecks, fame, and fandom-love by audiences await, but it’s a delicacy of pleasure for true cinephiles when he gets his feet wet in real cinematic projects like King Richard.

The Best Will Smith Performance Since ’06

One Of The Most Snubbed Actors Alive By The Oscars When He Forsakes Easy Box-Office & Fame To Deliver Thespian Artistry, WS Captures With Navy S.E.A.L.-like Discipline Richard Down To Lispy Talk Style, Blunt Candor, Dadbod, Addictif Conviviality

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Will Smith’s performance is absolutely breathtaking and easily one of the Top 5 of 2021 – capturing with Navy S.E.A.L.-like discipline every nuance of his real-world subject’s mannerisms down to the lispy talk-style, weight-gain dadbod, egocentrism about his family, blunt candor free of social-decorum to find the verité in all situations beyond subtexts, and light-hearted conviviality of his heavily-addictive presence we could happily watch for hours. Richard is similar to Lear in many ways: 1) his egocentrism and how he necessitates constant reassurance of love by his daughters throughout the film and the world through interviews, 2) authoritarian megalomaniacism dictating what every part of their daughters’ career trajectories will look like since they were mere kids he wrote a 78-page plan on, and 3) rebukes contrastive opinions – down to even tennis legends & coaches’ advice when it contradicts his like in the [hilarious] open-stance debacle. He’s also profusely cynical of the world around him from the beginning instead of later-on like Lear – Richard constantly-alluding to his dark past experiences of racism growing up in Shreveport, LA and taking a magnifying glass to everyone around him in words/actions of even the lightest subtextual assertions of racism to create his own safe-space around him and his daughters [well, as best as he can]. Even with his herculean efforts going as far as denying the best agents in town over their exaggerations of how impossible their story from the ghetto is, the Williams family experiences racism throughout the narrative. This – aside from even in the subtlest of nuances like how the white governmental agents questions how they’re raising children – is best exemplified by the game the film uses as a prismatic lens for race, class, gender, and business themes: tennis. The sport traces its early roots and creation back to 12th Century France, wherein Louis X’s courts played jeux de palme and got inspirations for the progressively-evolving game as we know it today. Tennis was – and still is – predominantly a rich white person’s game: they’ve dominated it and employed it at country clubs and even private residences of their wealthy and famous for generations. The very existence of the game in these contexts highlights white privilege and differential access to resources; they gatekeep it and maintain higher status in it by the ability to supply their kids with the best coaches, training, gear, & the many other resources needed to compete at a high-level in perhaps the most technical sport in the world from a young age – metaphorically just like how society is biased towards white people inheriting the best education legacy, wealth, power, etc. by institutional and systemic racism here in America.

Tennis

One Of The Most Technically-Proficient Of All Sports, Tennis Dates Back To 12th Century France & Jeux De Palme: A Game Of Royalty By Louis X Perfectly-Chosen By Film

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

There’s a pervasive condescension throughout the film’s events; not only from the snooty parents watching from the periphery of the film’s events and coaches/agents who reject them while doubting their methods, but even the white media and agents purportedly on the Williams’ side by how they constantly remark how ‘amazing’ it is they got here and pressure the girls to take every first-offer contract [because they subconsciously don’t believe in them or that they can get more]. The story of Venus & Serena Williams flips the narrative to open the game up to the world – even without every advantage in the book by the color of skin comprising the vast majority of the demographic, working their a**** off to even the playing field and serve as an inspiration to millions just like KR does filmically. King Richard is a celebration of black culture, art, talent, work ethic, creativity, and business. The Williams made it big time their own way – constantly and controversially [the world at-large hating it when black communities depart from the established (white) system, even when it in-no-way concerns them] rejecting every preconception or rule to pave their own path, mostly by the hand of Richard. The complexity and results of his actions show his plan was a highly-successful one we all can learn from: even if his actions sometimes border on crazy-looking, self-ingratiating, ego-inflating, and vicariously living through his kids as many sports dads and frigid stage-mothers are guilt of, they are ~always truly for the good of his daughters with perceptiveness to see what no one else can see. Rash decisions like pulling them out of junior circuits are born of justified fears seeing kids getting burnt-out and resorting to lives of drugs and education-deprived ignominy on TV and his daughters starting to get too comfortable at country clubs. From the rough hood existence of Compton to the promised land of new monarchy by how the free-world and America crowns new royalty with money, power, fame, and influence through sports [working together with tennis’ kingly origins to all synergize with King Lear thematically], Richard manages to preserve his daughters’ childhoods, purity, education, talent, & values – a monumental feat of parenting the film deserves praise for highlighting while celebrating black fatherhood, a rarity in cinema.

Race, Class, Gender, & Business Themes

Through The Lens Of A Traditionally Rich-And-White Sport, Media, & Agent Circus, KR Empowers Black And Women Demographics By Transcending The Rampant Classism, Differential Access To Resources, & Racism RW’s Family Endures Across The Narrative

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Richard’s methodology exemplifies [and makes a strong case for] the philosophy of tough love – pushing his kids, even in the rain with no days off, so that they can provide for themselves better than the cards they were dealt can and reach the greatness they have internally but more-than-most fail to achieve. His loud-mouth antics also proved true a paradox of fame we’ve seen many times since: The Kardashian/Ball Paradox. There is no such thing as bad publicity might very well be the catch phrase – something both eponymous families channeled by making loud, brash, audacious statements and creating drama ready for [or even on] Reality TV to attract eyes. Even if people hated, liked, or remained ambivalous about the noise, it fulfilled its purpose of social-hacking and hijacking the media to make their kids’ names household and drive success through social phenomenons akin to name/brand recognition – resulting in riches, fame, and opportunity, the Kardashians through fashion, makeup, TV, etc. and the Balls through professional athletics exactly like Richard Williams did decades ahead-of-his-time. before even the advent of social media made wildfire more possible with the press-send of a tweet. There’s a refreshing eulogization of academia in his system and the film: reminding the world of the forgotten ‘student’ part of the term student-athlete to instill good values in his children and make sure they can always provide for themselves regardless of sports there’s no guarantee in ever working out or lasting for long careers. Speaking on that, Richard’s rules – though he enforces them with the iron fist of an Old Testament God evocative of royalty and Lear in how he unflinchingly punishes in perverse ways like near-abandoning his daughters at a grocery store as kids or force-rewatching Cinderella pressing them for critical analysis of themes – teach important life lessons like not to brag or underestimate your opponents and to remain pure & humble.

A New Monarchy In America

Richard, Like Lear, Lives Cruelty-Of-Fate & Egocentric, Authoritarian, Megalomaniacal Qualities, But Does So Of Father-Daughter [Tough] Love To Provide Futures & Protect Childhood, Purity, Talent, & Values To Prmd. Land: Riches, Power, & Influence Of Athletes

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The girls who receive these lessons are brilliant executions of the child-versions of two of the biggest & most revolutionary, famous athletes of all-time: Venus & Serena Williams, alongside their other accomplished sisters. The star-making performance of the ensemble and one almost equally impressive to Will Smith’s is Saniyya Sidney – she absolutely rocks the intensely-pressurized role of being the young tennis prodigy Venus and crux of the film both in sporting events and acting. As far as the Lear parallels, Venus is characterizationally modeled after Cordelia by how she’s the ‘perfect favorite’ of Daddy and the media/agent circus, as well as an effortlessly likeable sentinel of magnetism and purity – nowhere more apparent than that one scene she self-celebrates her accomplishments in front of the bathroom mirror and you’d have to be deprived of a soul to not crack a goofy smile in. This is a career-making role amongst the finest early performances in a filmography we’ve ever seen [we do recognize her from AHS: Roanoke, Fast Color, & Hideden Figures, but none of these will provide half the exposure and industry potential as that scene of her breaking down in tears opposite Smith’s Richard on the blue tennis court], and her being cast as Sasha Obama in HBO’s 2022 The First Lady already promises great payoff. Venus as Cordelia would make Serena Goneril or Reagan, and the other sisters being the other ones. Light parallels are drawn between Serena and G/R by how she exhibits jealousy of Venus’ preferential treatment by her father and the media, but the outcome is flipped by her reengineering it into a beacon of positivity and motivation fuel to succeed on her own instead of betraying others for the metaphorical throne of her father’s love – earning it by becoming great and equally as good of a pro as Venus in a happy-ending of remarkable satisfaction remixing the lore.

The Cast, Prod., Cinematography, & Score

Magnificence of Performances By Rest Of Cast Led By Bernthal’s White Mayo Coach Paragon & A Star-Making Saniyya As The Cordelia-Modeled Venus; Bringing Lear Into Ocular Sunshine & A Funk/Soul Soundtrack

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The girls’ performances of power, imperium, valor, underdog tenacity, and fiery passion are incredibly refreshing to see in a female athlete when typically ascribed ~exclusively to male ones. King Richard also tackles themes of gender throuhg its construct and screenplay. Masculinity is portrayed in both the benevolent, primal/historical type in fathers protecting and providing for their families like Richard working multiple jobs to put food on the table and physically sacrificing himself to defend his daughters’ honor to hoodlums lusting after them and toxic in those gangs harassing and slobbering over 16 y.o. girls they feel entitled to while beating up her father just for asking them to mind their own business politely. Femininity is empowered by how the film celebrate women’s athletics oftentimes looked down upon by audiences and the world to show there are many talented and inspirational athletes in them as well. The film also invokes the power of sports: not only as metaphors for life every kid can learn crucial life lessons from to guide them for the rest of theirs like how to win, lose, and be part of a team, but also how important and life-saving a beacon of positivity and opportunity they can be for minority communities. The world’s closest example of a level playing field and meritocracy, sports don’t care what race, gender, color, family, class, etc. you came from; if you work hard, study, learn, and train more than the rest, you can make it to the big leagues and be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams. Sure, there are a few blind spots and imperfections – like how the world champion who was about to lose to Venus in the final match psychologically-iced her off her game using dirty rules and cheat-codes to show (furthering the cynical Lear-like nihilism) that sometimes the evil can break through the system’s safeguards and white privilege and luck/connections can beget access to the best coaches like Jon Berhtal’s Rick Macci [one of the best, if not the best, supporting performances of the year by how he absolutely nails the white mayo ’90’s coach paragon further showcasing his insane range from The Punisher to Ford v. Ferrari to The Walking Dead to this] – but it’s still one that rewards underdogs every day.

The Power Of Sports

The World’s Closest Example Of A Level Playing Field & Meritocracy, Sports Are Metaphors For Life & Provide Opportunities Regardless Of Background Or External Factors For Anyone To Make It Big Through Hard Work, Dedication, & Perseverance

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The alternative cinematic intangibles of King Richard deserve singular celebration and accolades. Firstly, the film’s tonal/gender mixes are sensational – balancing comedy & drama brilliantly to subvert expectations of a dark-and-gloomy Lear to candy-coat the narrative without losing its dark subtextual cogitations and thematic depth. The cinematography of by AFI-alum Robert Elswit synergistically blasts the canvas with physical California sunshine to parallel the metaphorical type, and finds beauty even in the lines of a tennis-court and the way the bright yellow ball swirls in the wind through camerawork techniques ranging from rotational pans to deep-focus to overheads to long-takes to graphic-match and quick-cut successions to play with the eye and jumpstart the pulse. The soundtrack boosts the airy lightness by its magnificence of curation: funk, soul, and boom-bap ’90’s rap picks culminating in a great new [surely-viral] Beyoncé song for the credits roll. Flaws largely center around the fact the film stays ~ambivalent of its two major tennis stars: refusing to delve much into the psyches of Venus & Serena themselves. Sure, they’re only kids during the screenplay’s events, but we’d love to see how, for example, the effects of the rigorous Richardian regiments of training affected them and how they parent their children looking back. This is, overall, a minor flaw that pales in comparison to how exciting-yet-depthful an experience the film is – nowhere more apparent than in that end-credits montage splicing together real archival footage from RW’s home videos and tournament tapes to show how perfectly the cast captures the characters, aesthetics, events, etc.: one of the best, freshest, and most original biopics in recent years and easily one of the Top 10 Sport Movies Of All-Time. A complex, saccharine, emotionally-provocative remix-modernization of Shakespeare, King Richard prismatically-analyzes father-daughter love, class, race, gender, business, & empowerment themes through a biopic lens of the humble origins of tennis legends w. a chef d’oeuvre lead performance: Will Smith’s best work since ’06 Pursuit Of Happyness.

Oficial CLC Score: 9/10