July 6, 2013

Venus and Serena

Maiken Baird & Michelle Major, 2012

Baird and Major direct this documentary about the Williams sisters that follows them through their 2011 tennis season, but also peppers in archival footage dating all the way back to their youth in Compton, CA.

It's an interesting film that catalogs a truly American story. Two sisters grow up in the rough neighborhood of Compton. Their overprotective father really wants whats best for his daughters, helping them cultivate their skills and carve a niche for themselves so they can elevate their lives to the point that they can get out of the rough neighborhood. The early footage of them as two little girls really shows the long road they've traveled to get to where they are. The innocence of the two standing on the sun-cracked courts in Compton is captivating. Of course the confidence builds at an early age, and their success is known. The documentary does a good job of capturing them behind the scenes, in some intimate moments. Serena struggles through injury and the film does a good job of capturing the frustration and anticipation. You see the competitive nature of the two sisters, but also the comradery and support of each other. They may defeat each other on the court, but there is no jealousy or animosity. While Richard Williams may not have been the best husband, its without question that he was and still is a good father to Venus and Serena. He raised them with a sense of pride and integrity that they have refined over the years. He raised them to have a healthy sense of competition. He also raised them with a religious foundation - as Jehovah's Witnesses. The absence of traditional American holidays only reinforced their all-in mentality with Tennis. Venus even stated herself in the film that they missed out on a lot of things growing up, but she has no regrets. Richard Williams surely draws a lot of comparisons to Earl Woods, father to Tiger Woods. The comparisons are very fitting. Both fathers wanted their kin to make an impression in a mainly Caucasian-dominated sport, and pushed them to do so from an early age. Both fathers also maintained a presence as a mentor/coach into their professional careers. Unfortunately the dilemma the two sisters face is a problem felt by many professional athletes: Father time. As they've become older, they've been reminded of their own mortality. Their 30-year-old bodies are not as agile as their 20-year-old bodies, and they are constantly reminded of that. Issues that didn't exist before are now in the foreground. The film itself is edited nicely, with a fitting soundtrack. There are some interesting interviews (ie. Chris Rock, Bill Clinton, John McEnroe) that reinforce the sisters effect on popular culture as well as their effect on American sports. It's an entertaining film that follows two sisters whose tennis careers are certainly not over, but have certainly passed some important milestones.

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