Richard, it seems, had a lot of ideas that didn’t work – he was an accomplished con artist who always had a business idea in the works. However, chess hardly seems to matter much, as one idea worked, and that was to bring his daughters to tennis. The relentlessness sometimes humiliating despite so many rejections and obstacles is easier to observe because we know the end result.
The film does a good job balancing sports with this family’s story. Richard performed running drills with the daughters, Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), on their run-down courts in south-central Los Angeles. But it’s not just athletic greatness that Richard focuses on, he wants his daughters to be well-rounded humans. Humility and education are equally important. And the girls, for the most part, don’t seem to care about thoroughness since they also believe in the goal, although tensions do run over.
Smith is as good as he has ever been as this man who has clearly been beaten, literally and figuratively, in life, but won’t let that stop him from helping his daughters achieve excellence. . He lets his movie star shine very lightly and disappears into Richard, a guy who we think would be so easily rejected by so many people.
By the way, both girls are great, although Sidney as Venus has more time to shine simply by the nature of the story. She’s the one who gets fancy coaches, first in Los Angeles played by Tony Goldwyn, then Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) who will take him to the pros. The sisters have a sweet relationship and clearly adore their father, even when frustrated by his self-promotion antics and sometimes mystifying efforts to protect them.