MRR Review: "Venus and Serena"

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Ever since Venus and Serena Williams started playing in tennis tournaments, they've provoked strong reactions...
2.5

MRR Review: "Venus and Serena"

-- Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language)
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: May 10, 2013
Directed by: Maiken Baird and Michelle Major
Genre: Documentary

"Venus and Serena" offers an intimate look into the lives of two tennis players from the slums of Compton, CA, their rise to success, and the tragedies that they both had to deal with during the 2011 tennis season. Venus and Serena Williams are private individuals and don't share many aspects of their personal lives with the media. Directors Michelle Major and Maiken Baird had to earn the sisters' trust in order to be rewarded with the privilege of being able to film their lives.

The story of the Williams sisters' rise to success is an inspirational example of the American dream. Using news clips and interview commentary from celebrities and political figures such as Chris Rock, Bill Clinton, and John McEnroe, the documentary explains how Venus and Serena rose from poverty to become top-ranked tennis players.

Much of their early success can be attributed to their father, Richard Williams, who started a successful security company after moving to Los Angeles. Soon after, he decided to dedicate himself to the mission of ensuring his daughters became the best tennis players in the world. Even Venus and Serena will admit that much of their success can be attributed to how hard their father pushed them in their early years. This documentary raises the question of whether their father's decision to practically force them to dedicate themselves to success in tennis is morally correct. Without the opportunities this game has given the sisters, it is likely that they would have fallen victim to the ills of living in poverty.

Richard pushed Serena and Venus extremely hard at a young age. Before Venus was born, he drafted a seventy-eight page plan of how his daughter would be one of the best women's tennis players that the world had ever seen. Through footage filmed in the early '90s, the sisters are shown as they hustle through an intense, demanding training regimen consisting of activities such as pole dancing, jazz, and ballet.

Their mother, Oracene Price, also played a large role in their lives. She is responsible for the sisters' strong faith as Jehovah's Witnesses. Even today, she plays a central role in their careers as well as their lives. The documentary gives a glimpse into the inner workings of this close-knit family. Even through the fame, the family seems to stick together and support each other.

As the beginning of the documentary was being filmed, both Venus and Serena suffered devastating injuries. Venus suffered a serious hip injury and recovered, only to be diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, a serious auto-immune disease. Serena recovered from a foot surgery and then ended up in the hospital as she battled a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. The documentary charts the amazing recovery and comeback of both sisters. In the beginning, Serena is devastated by the thought that she may never be able to play tennis again. The film shows her in the hospital with tubes attached to her, and then she is seen going through a grueling rehabilitation process. Later, she is seen in a wheelchair with a tennis racket swatting balls with a partner. Towards the end of the session, Serena scolds her training partner for not pushing her harder.

One of the most touching aspects of the documentary is its portrayal of the close, seemingly unbreakable bond that Venus and Serena share. They are shown having fun together and lending each other support when needed. Since they were so busy training at a young age, they don't have many other close friends.

The film also reveals that Serena has always looked up to her big sister. Richard's expectation was that Venus would be the better player of the two. However, Serena is the one who has the more impressive career. In her interviews for the documentary, she mentions that she attributes her success to her hatred of losing and her fiercely competitive spirit.

The documentary also gives a little insight to Venus and Serena's dating life. However, this topic isn't given much attention; the film primarily focuses on the sisters' beginnings, their struggles during the 2011 season, and their relationship with each other.

Venus and Serena have led private lives, and for the most part, they have carefully shielded themselves from being exposed by the media. This documentary is the first time that they willingly give people a look into their lives. The documentary also details the history of their ascension from living in a poor neighborhood in Compton to becoming superstars in the tennis world. "Venus and Serena" is recommended for anyone who has an interest in Venus or Serena and would like to see how these extraordinary sisters live.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5