Venus And Serena (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/06/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 99 mins

Entertaining documentary that showcases both the Williams sisters' vibrant personalities and their remarkable careers, but the film rarely digs beneath the surface and their injury-strewn 2011 tennis season means the film lacks a dramatic structure.

What's it all about?
Directed by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, Venus and Serena is a documentary about tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, charting their lives and careers and intimately following both women during their 2011 tennis season. Needless to say, much of the focus is also on their tennis coach father Richard Williams, a driving force in their lives, who took them from glass-strewn public courts in Compton, California to Centre Court at Wimbledon, insisting at an early age that they dedicate themselves to tennis above everything else.

The Good
The film intersperses archive material, televised matches, press conferences and 2011 fly-on-the-wall footage with to-camera interviews with both sisters as well as family members, friends and celebrity fans, including Bill Clinton, Chris Rock, Anna Wintour and John McEnroe, each of whom assesses their impact both on the sport itself and on American society as a whole. The archive material, in particular, is fascinating, particularly the shots of the sisters as young girls, already self-confident enough to declare, at 14, that they will win Wimbledon one day.

The 2011 footage and the various interviews do an excellent job of showcasing the sisters' vibrant personalities – they are frequently very funny – and the film does at least delve into Serena's colourful on-court clashes with umpires (cue some amusing comparisons from McEnroe) and her frequently testy relationship with the press.

In terms of material that's less widely known, you also get a strong sense of just how important their mother, Oracene Price, has also been throughout their careers; Oracene herself is also good value as an interviewee, as she's the only person prepared to openly criticise Richard on camera. (Asked if she has any advice for Richard's current, much younger wife, she replies, ‘Run. Run now...’)

The Bad
The film's biggest problem is that it refuses to dig below the surface, often raising interesting or controversial ideas (Venus' opinions on marriage as a Jehovah's Witness; the suggestion that when it comes to a match between the two of them Venus would let Serena win, because her sister wants it more) only to ignore them. As a result, the film never properly explores their supposed rivalry, as it becomes increasingly clear that neither sister wants to say anything that will upset the other.

In addition, their injury-strewn 2011 tennis season (Serena recovering from a career-threatening pulmonary embolism, Venus battling autoimmune deficiency) means that the filmmakers are essentially denied a series of dramatic on court confrontations between the two, so the film lacks both a dramatic structure and the sort of sports-based pay-off that directors Baird and Major must have been hoping for when they began the project.

Worth seeing?
The second of two tennis docs out this week, Venus and Serena is an entertaining documentary and the Williams sisters are fascinating enough for this to be enjoyed by both tennis fans and non-tennis fans alike.

Film Trailer

Venus And Serena (12A)
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Content updated: 14/12/2017 15:07

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