Venus and Serena
3 stars
Documentary by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major
Rated PG-13
Playing at the Magic Johnson and Village East 

In modern tennis, no figures loom larger than Venus and Serena Williams. The sisters have irrevocably changed the sport through the sheer force of their personalities and the magnitude of their successes, dominating their era as few players before them ever have.

That's the operating theory behind the documentary "Venus and Serena," and it's a notion espoused onscreen by John McEnroe, who knows a thing or two about livening up what's essentially an elite, country-club pursuit.

But the film from Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, which follows Venus and Serena through the 2011 season and includes flashbacks covering their rise through the ranks and asides about their other pursuits, is less hagiography than a movie about an unusual bond between sisters.

Siblings are naturally competitive, even if they're in totally different professional fields. So imagine what it must be like to not only have the same job as your sister, but to directly battle her at the highest possible level in your shared profession. Most of us would have a hard time not being consumed by jealousy.

The Williams sisters have played each other 24 times, including eight Grand Slam finals. Serena, the younger sister, has won most of the matches.

And yet they have persistently remained each other's biggest fans, without even the slightest hint of bitterness. This behind-the-scenes portrait conveys their closeness: We see the sisters (and roommates) console each other after losses, celebrate victories and bond in the way that best friends do. The unconditional love hits home, in all its manifestations.

The movie is a bit unfocused. But it appropriately ends with the duo's doubles victory at Wimbledon in 2012, and there's great joy in the triumph because they achieved it together.

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