Venus & Serena
This documentary poses as the kind of ”year-in-the-life” film that’s still apparently in fashion, and of course it’s interesting to get a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of the phenomenally successful and famous Williams sisters: we see them in training, at home with their extensive family (they both admit to being unsure exactly how many half brothers and sisters they have), we see Serena recovering physically and emotionally (karaoke rehab) from serious injury, and we see Venus working hard on the fashion design career that she runs alongside her career in tennis.
However, inevitably the most fascinating parts of this 100-minute documentary are those concerned with the back story: how it was that “the girls from the ghetto”, a couple of black sisters from Compton L.A, made it to the top of the whitest of sports.
The most interesting character within this is of course neither Venus nor Serena, but their father Robert, who prowls around every other inch of the film, every inch the eccentric parent and mentor.
Early on we find him admitting to a chat show host how he had no real interest or passion for tennis until it struck him as a good way for his family to better themselves socially and financially. We learn later on that, before she was even born, he drew up a 78-page plan outlining how he would make Venus the US Open Champion.
It’s hard to look past his single-mindedness and determination as the sole determining factor of the two sisters’ success, and it’s a shame we never really get to hear from him directly. Instead we have to make do with second-hand recollections of his unconventional training methods and old secondary footage of him in action (at one point he fiercely lays into an interviewer whose questioning of a teenage Venus’ self-confidence he finds inappropriate – naturally you can’t help but cheer him on).
The directors though are intent on flipping back and forth between past and present, and at times it feels the truly fascinating (although perhaps less exclusive) story of the sister’s success is trimmed down to make room for fly-on-the-wall footage of Serena trying out a pole dancing class or Robert getting rid of a photographer he feels is distracting his girls from training.
However, this is for the most part a satisfying film, by no means just for fans of tennis. It is constantly intriguing, emotional in an honest not overegged way, and full of warmth.
Venus and Serena was released on 10th May, 2013.
Watch the trailer for Venus and Serena here: