They seem like such adorable youngsters, these two girls in pigtails who shuffle restlessly and smile nervously for the camera. Then the duo step onto a dingy tennis court, and you can’t believe the speed and sheer force they display with a racket. These kids—Venus Williams and her younger sister, Serena—are genuine child prodigies; a decade later, they’ll have revolutionized the sport, become fashion icons and started to rack up what will be a host of Grand Slam title wins and Olympic medals, both individually and as a doubles team. By the time that filmmakers Maiken Baird and Michelle Major start following the Williams sisters in 2011, however, both are in their early thirties and suffering from physical maladies that threaten to end their respective careers. Age is the great foe of athletes, one of the film’s talking heads proclaims; thankfully, an only partially successful documentary on sports champions is more a nagging frenemy than a nemesis.
It’s not that the film doesn’t start out with some strong volleys, going from the sisters’ early days in Compton (cue Straight Outta Compton snippet, you ask? Yup!) and initial Wimbledon glories to their current predicament. Rather, once Venus and Serena flips through the duo’s collection of greatest hits and hissy fits, it settles into a groove of lip service from famous people (what is Bill Clinton doing here, exactly?), sports aphorisms (“I hate losing more than I love winning”) and slow-road-to-recovery moodiness. You’ll learn that karaoke is an effective rehab tool; that their dad, Richard, the film’s real hero, molded his daughters into fierce competitors; and that Venus and Serena actually do love each other. Anyone looking for deeper insights than that or into what really makes this twosome tick will find themselves at a real disadvantage.
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