Film Review – Respect

Respect (M)

Directed by: Liesl Tommy

Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Iconic singer Aretha Franklin’s life gets the big screen biopic treatment, but instead of a rousing tribute, this feels more like a middling Netflix production that would easily and immediately get lost in the algorithm.

Aretha Franklin had a noticeable vocal talent from an early age, singing in the choir for her father C. L. Franklin, who nurtured and exploited those talents.

She grows up to be a recording artist, but with nine albums and not a single hit, her career didnt go very far until she marries her husband slash manager Ted White (Marlon Wayans), whose connections and thug-like behaviour helped open doors.

Aretha eventually becomes a worldwide superstar dubbed the Queen of Soul.

It seems like a no-brainer of a cracking story – how a singer under the thumb of her preacher father and abusive husband and manager came to release an empowering hit like Respect, and yet the arc feels under developed.

Like most biopics, Respect likes to show us milestones and life highs and lows but fails to connect them. One minute Aretha wants to march with family friend Martin Luther King for civil rights, the next she just wants to “make hit records”. How her motivations and focus change remain a mystery.

And choosing to keep this a very audience friendly and respectful affair, we don’t even see how the abuse at the hands of a party guest resulting her giving birth at 12 years old shapes her. Such a significant moment in her life (albeit unpleasant) goes largely unexplored.

Jennifer Hudson has the vocal cords to pull off the singing however her performance feels stuck, which seems largely due to the script problems mentioned. How does one create a full character when so much is glossed over or omitted?

It is a handsome film to watch, but painfully long given that it ultimately treads similar paths of other musician biopics – abuse, alcohol, rags to riches etc. Points for depicting Franklin at one point as an alcoholic hitting rock bottom, turning nasty towards her family and later seeking redemption – but it is a long road to get to that point.

The most powerful moment comes during the credits with a clip of the real Aretha singing (You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman at 73 years old just three yeas before her death, as she peels off her over sized fur coat on stage as she belts out her classic just highlights that this film spent over two hours trying to capture her star power and failed.

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