Respect: Film Review


Courtesy of Universal

Aretha Franklin handpicked Jennifer Hudson to portray her in a biopic and now Respect is here it’s clear to see why.

This biopic, directed by Liesl Tommy, depicts 20 years of the Queen of Soul’s life, beginning with her performing in church as a child with her dad C.L. (Forest Whitaker) to signing with Columbia – where she has very little success – before she reaches her peak at Atlantic Records with hits such as Respect, Think, and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.

Franklin was a larger-than-life lady and a soul icon so it’s a shame she has been given such a generic biopic treatment. The film follows the same path as most biopics and hits the familiar beats you would expect. I didn’t know much about the singer outside of her songs so I still found it fascinating to learn more about her but I was never fully hooked into the conventional story. I also felt that the film was a bit too respectful of its subject – her life involved dark issues such as sexual assault, domestic abuse and alcoholism and these are depicted in a surface level way. The movie should have dug a little deeper so we could get to know Franklin as a person better, not just the highs and lows of her life. The domestic abuse situation gets a closer look as the film focuses heavily on her first marriage to Ted White (Marlon Wayans), who became her manager, but you don’t get a great sense of her thought process at the time.

Respect is almost two and a half hours long and it should have been 15-20 minutes shorter, particularly when it ends in 1972, when she was at the height of her career. And what a career it was – this film actually made me go “oh yeah, didn’t realise that was her hit!” a few times. The performances are the standout moments and there are plenty of them, from the early days in church, to the recording studio, to big shows like Madison Square Garden once she’s a big star. They cover the majority of her hits and it was entertaining watching them come to life. They are glorious and Hudson was clearly in her element while filming those; her voice is just insane and she easily nails Franklin’s range.

Her acting is impressive too. Although I thought she was drafted into playing Franklin at too early an age (a 39-year-old playing a teenager doesn’t work), she did well playing a clueless teenager who just does what her dad says before eventually finding her voice and standing up for what she wants. As an adult, she has sass, demanding diva moments and also vulnerable times when she gets lonely and turns to drink.

Elsewhere in the cast, I enjoyed Wayans as White, a very different character to his usual type. He adopted a deeper and smoother voice and came across so charming, when underneath he is a bitter and jealous man who resorts to violence. Whitaker was also great as the controlling C.L., who treats his daughter like a performing puppet, as is Marc Maron as Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler, who puts her on the path to success.

Respect follows the biopic rulebook to the letter but it’s still worth a watch for Hudson’s sensational performance.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In cinemas Friday 10th September

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