Respect Image

Aretha Franklin, or as many call her “The Queen of Soul,” is one of the most influential musicians in history. Her voice and overall legacy in the industry have definitely stuck with fans and critics alike. With that sort of legacy, it is certainly understandable that she deserved her own big-screen adaptation. The unfortunate thing is that “Respect,” starring Jennifer Hudson, follows better stories about this Queen. Our story follows this legendary R&B singer throughout her entire life. She definitely lived a full life, and the film is told via a two-and-a-half-hour running time.

That rather lengthy running time is where my problems with “Respect” unfortunately rise to the surface. Structurally, the musical biopic has been something of a safe, awards-centric formula that films have followed. Be it the typical rise and fall, general life story, or highlight reel, it’s safe to know what you’re going to end up with. Sometimes you get variants on the formula with films like “Get On Up” or “Rocketman,” but those tend to be rather special cases. If your interest in “Respect” was on the possibility of risky filmmaking, it might be a massive disappointment. 

Hudson, as the titular character, is easily the strongest and overall best part of the film. Her cadence as Franklin and her wonderful voice is truly entrancing from start to finish. When director Liesl Tommy lets her do her thing, it’s a true sight to behold on screen. The same could be said for her acting chops which help to allow us as audiences to feel her presence as this legendary performer. Even in scenes with Forest Whittaker as her father or Marlon Wayans as her first husband, she truly commands the screen. Unfortunately, the film also falters because the “drama” is heightened, making the film feel incredibly hollow. 

The film covers her upbringing, pregnancy at age 12, her abusive father and marriages. We see every bit of it. It’s not that those sequences are tough to watch, but their delivery is done in a way that feels like a lifetime movie. The sequences with young Aretha work exceptionally well with actress Sky Dakota Turner. Not only does she have the natural singing talent, but also the adorable precociousness and talent to portray this young ingenue. In many cases, It’s hard not to avoid wishing the film spent more time with her. The same could be said immediately after, when teenage Aretha meets her first husband, Marlon Wayans.

Actors like Wayans are mostly known for their more comedic chops, which intrigued me to see what he can do. However, having to play a husband that’s essentially a “bad boy” is hard, especially when playing against actors like Hudson or Whittaker. In this middle portion, the film becomes incredibly inert because it feels like nothing more than actors playing dress-up. It completely took me out of the experience, and the film never recovers from it. The film loses any ounce of surprise without any spoilers and turns the narrative in a bland sameness. 

“Respect” is a massive disappointment because no one involved is willing to take risks with the narrative. The overarching problem that I couldn’t seem to shake was the fear of screenwriters Tracey Scott Wilson and Callie Khouri playing things out in the safest way possible. There’s no denying that they pay respect to this legend, but the respect for “Respect” hurts it from being anything more than being fine. Some may consider “fine” to be more than enough, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that audiences are going to be disappointed in the finished product.

Rating: 5/10

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