Director: Liesl Tommy
Writer: Tracey Scott Wilson
Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra MacDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess and Mary J. Blige
Aretha Franklin had been involved for a long time with the biopic of her life, she asked Jennifer Hudson personally to star as her. Respect presents The Queen of Soul’s life from childhood up to the recording of her live album Amazing Grace.
Jennifer Hudson is absolutely fantastic in as Aretha Franklin. She gives a performance of a lifetime. She is powerful, moving, engrossing. The whole film rests on her shoulders and she carries it perfectly, not missing a beat. Her voice is simply amazing. The rest of the cast is also great. Forest Whitaker plays the role of a father who wants to live through his daughter’s successes perfectly, walking a fine line between nasty and likable.
The sets and costumes are amazing. There are times when the camera has a tint over it, to make it look grainy and from the era. It would be easy to believe that those moments were archive footage from the time. The whole film is grand in scale from the church scenes to Madison Square Garden, Franklin’s house and everything in between. The production design is incredible.
A biopic about one of the most famous singers of all time needs to have great sound design and Respect does not disappoint. The sound is incredible. The scenes where they are making the songs in the studio, with the different musicians adding the instruments on layer by layer, in an almost freeform jazz style are the highlights of the movie. Each one is excellent and sounds perfect.
While the film doesn’t shy away from showing the bad sides of Aretha’s life, herself and the people around her, it does shy away from some of the harsher moments especially her father. He’s played as a flawed but loveable person in the film, completely ignoring some of the predatory things he’d done. There is documentaries and online articles online. The film does keep the tone light and upbeat for the most part but does give the time and space for the abuse that Franklin went through as a child and from her first husband.
The biggest issue with the film is its length. It’s incredibly long and you feel it. The film moves from the early 50s to the early 70s at a quick pace, but since it glosses over so many years it never feels focused enough. Her childhood sequences lasts a long time and then when she goes to New York she has four albums out within a second. It feels like there is too much packed in and it’s not given enough time to breathe. In every scene something important is happening and it skips through time. One moment Aretha is living in an apartment, the next she is living in a glorious house with servants, a growing drinking problem and skipping tour dates. It feels like all the big moments are there but nothing of the small moments in between. It would have been a lot better if there was either two films, it focused on a smaller part of her life or it was a TV series.
Respect is a good biopic, but it doesn’t reach the same heights that other recent biopics have, such as Bohemian Rapsody and Rocketman. Both of those films capture the thing that makes the subjects unique, places it in the context of the time and is entertaining the entire way through. Respect just isn’t focused enough and that means it falters a lot more. There is a lot jammed into the film and it would have been better with more room to breathe.