Richard Williams (Will Smith) the father of Serena and Venus Williams had a plan, a 78 page document detailing how he would transform his daughters into the worlds most famous and arguably best, female tennis players.
Starting on neglected courts in Compton, not known for wealth and sunlit tennis courts, he teaches his girls how to play, improve and remain mentally strong, through rain or shine. Whilst parenting them in his own unyielding fashion, underpinned by a strong Jehovah Witness faith.
Williams attempts to keep Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) safe from the local gang-bangers costing him many bruises and endangering his life at one point. He is saved from a turning point by an unexpected event, illustrating how his daughters lives could have turned out very differently.
The girls live in a blended family with their mother Oracene “Brandy” (Aunjanue Ellis) and step sisters, with Oracene deferring to Richard’s wishes according to her faith, which is stretched thin on many occasions.
Venus and Serena improve and due to a brazen introduction to coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) during a John McEnroe & Pete Sampras knock up at the local club, Venus is accepted for free coaching. However, Cohen refuses to coach both players, but Serena secretly continues to train with Oracene.
Both girls continue to improve and eventually start playing on the junior circuit, collecting trophies. However, celebrations are swiftly curtailed by their father, impressing the need for humility even in victory.
William’s eventually acknowledges the girls have outgrown Cohen and persuades coach Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) to travel from California to see them play, subsequently moving the family cross country to join his tennis academy.
As the girl’s continue to avoid the tennis worlds attention, Williams senior declines to enter them in junior tournaments, a well trodden route to the senior tour.
Eventually realising he cannot keep the girls hidden from adult pressures forever, Venus explodes onto the sporting stage with sponsors paving her way with gold. Each multimillion dollar deal declined by William’s only moves the figure ever higher.
As they say, the rest is history, with Serena eventually eclipsing her successful sister to reach GOAT female tennis player status, remaining at No 1 for an astonishing 316 weeks.
The film nails the time period and both girls look and act like real tennis players, despite having no tennis experience beforehand. Ellis continues to impress, showing Oracene as the real force behind the family despite the theatrics from her husband.
Somewhat eclipsing the core story of the William’s sisters is Will Smith, a larger than life figure in real life. He provides a great showy performance, winning him best actor at the Oscar’s, subsequently overshadowed by “slapgate”, a shame as there is good work here.
Does the portrayal of Williams senior overshadow the sister’s achievements in the film, maybe but the story was made with the support and approval of the family, so there is considerable “airbrushing” at work here.
Arguably, what has been left out of the story, both before and after the sister’s success, is as interesting as what is portrayed. Certainly on screen, he is shown as a difficult man to deal with, but his previous marriage, many other children, earlier break up and subsequent divorce from Oracene have all been left unsaid.
An enjoyable, well acted, somewhat sanitised version of the most famous female tennis players ever, with Venus and Serena changing the tennis playing landscape forever, in every sense.