Following the rise of Aretha Franklin’s career from a child singing in her father’s church’s choir to her international superstardom, RESPECT is the remarkable true story of the music icon’s journey to find her voice.
The music biopic is arguably one of the most reliable movie genres, with a settled format that at least usually has some cracking music to fall back on even if the screenplay falters. In the case of ‘Respect’, Liesl Tommy’s movie about the life of soul legend Aretha Franklin, this partially holds true although I felt the best elements of the film were strong enough to make this into a really entertaining movie. Covering over 20 years in Aretha Franklin’s life from her childhood to the release of her bestselling 1972 live album ‘Amazing Grace’, it covers her rise to fame against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and relationship problems across her two marriages at this time.
Franklin is played by Jennifer Hudson, picked out by Aretha herself prior to her passing, and she is an absolute force of nature and already looks the one to beat at next year’s Oscars. You expect her to be good in the musical sequences and she absolutely is, capturing the star quality that Franklin had and doing a remarkable job of sounding like her, but she rises to the occasion just as much in other parts of the film, depicting a woman who has to show some real strength to stand up to the men who are trying to control her life. ‘Respect’ shines brightest in the music creation sequences which are terrific, and are almost always my favourite part of a music biopic – definite shades of ‘Love & Mercy’ in the sequence showing how her first hit ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)’ came together. It is less sure footed when it touches on the civil rights movement and racial politics of the time, which it struggles to bring into Franklin’s overall story with as much ease as her musical career
‘Respect’ is an entertaining biopic that shows the process and personal trauma that fed into some of Aretha Franklin’s finest songs, and with good performances from Forest Whitaker (as her father), Marc Maron (as music producer Jerry Wexler) and of course Hudson herself, Aretha’s story is brought to life with style and grace.
Directed By: Liesl Tommy
Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Skye Dakota Turner, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Albert Jones, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Tate Donovan, Mary J. Blige, Kelvin Hair and Heather Headley