Venus and Serena (2013) Review

Venus and Serena.(Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
Venus and Serena.
(Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

While it won’t be considered a Grand Slam, Venus and Serena is a well-intentioned look at how two sisters from Compton transcended the sport of tennis, and brought new meaning to the term match point.

It’s no surprise that when asked to name two female American tennis players, most people will immediately say Venus and Serena Williams. And unless you’re an avid fan of the sport, you’ll probably have difficulty listing too many others. That’s because for the better part of the last decade, these two sisters have been dominating the tennis world.

Through this documentary audiences are offered a rare glimpse into the lives of these two superstar athletes, and how their presence in this international sport has brought a whole new awareness to the game. Once the curtain is pulled back viewers are granted access to everything, ranging from family tragedy and a strange love of karaoke to lessons on how handling fame in the spotlight can sometimes give you multiple personalities (some of which may come out at inopportune international moments).

Serena makes the comment early in the film that “Two black girls from Compton probably weren’t supposed to ever play tennis, let alone be really good at it.” This sets the stage for a trip down memory lane. Through humble beginnings and fierce determination by their father Richard Williams (who wrote a 78 page plan before they were born on how they both would become number one in the world), we take a look back at how their careers began to unfold and what continues to drive them. From becoming fashion icons to international athletes and multiple championship winners, the film never fails to give its two stars the credit they deserve.

However, while rich in detail, the film’s pacing starts losing steam halfway through its over two-hour runtime. After the personal triumphs and greatest hits reel, the clips dwindle into celebrity praise and talking heads. No matter the subject matter, that’s a difficult way to hold an audience’s attention. Even clips of John McEnroe’s famous outburst in contention with Serena’s somehow lose their desired effect.

Where the film does succeed, is in reminding us that age is the ultimate opponent to an athlete’s career. For those who grew up watching the Williams sisters’ careers explode, it’s hard to believe that they are already in their early 30’s. After two comebacks each, we see the clocks wind back to 2011, which proved a difficult year for both women. It’s tough to watch Venus pull out of the 2011 US Open due to a diagnosis of Sjögren’s Syndrome (an auto-immune disease known for, among other things, completely zapping energy), and Serena suffer from a hematoma and pulmonary embolism. Though, after some intense therapy and a healthy recovery, both women say that if they have their way, then they’ll be at the top for the foreseeable future. Let’s hope that’s true, because it’s unlikely we will ever see a pair of sister athletes, who, while both are extremely talented, share such respect and love for one another.