"Respect" stars Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tate Donovan, Tituss Burgess, and Mary J. Blige. Released on August 13, 2021, the film chronicles the life of Aretha Franklin.
The film featured the directorial debut of Liesl Tommy, who is known for directing theatre. If you want to be successful, you have to earn some respect. Aretha Franklin worked extremely hard for it during her career as a singer. Now, we get to finally see what it means to her in biopic form. The film continues the recent trend of biographical stories based on famous singers that started with "Straight Outta Compton" six years ago. This is also another movie that's based on a singer that I haven't listened to very often, similar to my experience with "Straight Outta Compton", "Bohemian Rhapsody", and "The United States vs. Billie Holiday". I have only heard one song from Aretha Franklin multiple times, which is, of course, "Respect", and that's about it. Despite that, I was curious to see this latest drama, mainly because of the presence of Jennifer Hudson, who's still proving herself to be a fabulous singer and a talented actress. Was the film something that genuinely deserves some respect? Let's find out.
The story follows Aretha Franklin (Hudson), a young woman who grows up to be a talented singer thanks to her magnificent voice and the support of her father (Whitaker). She deals with multiple issues that threaten her life throughout her career, including sexual assault, domestic abuse, racism, and alcoholism. Franklin must stay true to herself to combat these troubling challenges and rise to the top. As someone who only knows Aretha as a singer, I never would've realized how much she went through until I watched the movie. For her to experience so much abuse and alcohol consumption and survived long enough to become successful, that took a lot of courage; not to mention plenty of dedication. After watching the film, I have nothing but respect for the late artist. It is truly something that every Franklin fan should know about regarding its heavy themes and her history, but was the movie as respectful as her life story? I would have to say yes. However, it wasn't without a few sour notes. The film is undoubtedly a fascinating two-and-a-half-hour-long journey about finding one's voice and standing up for what they believe in regardless of what people say or do to them. Liesl Tommy, a theatre director, delivered plenty of good merits to maintain the plot's emotional nature, such as the scenes involving Franklin's performances, its religious material, and her understanding of the person, inside and out. She also wasn't afraid to represent some uncomfortable material, such as abuse, in a teen-friendly manner without going too far with them. While Tommy's first project showed some potential in her future as a movie director, I did happen to stumble upon some issues that prevented it from reaching the top ten charts. For starters, the film delivered the same elements as some of the other musical biopics that came before it, such as the music performances and the drama that occurred in-between. It didn't have anything that would change the genre or anything like that, but I'm willing to forgive it since the execution was respectable (no pun intended). Another issue I had was its pacing. With its runtime of two hours and 25 minutes, the film did what it could to showcase Franklin's many critical scenarios. Unfortunately, it struggled to keep itself as consistently engaging as her singing voice. The pacing happened to jump all over the place from time to time. One minute, it moved at a medium-sized pace. The next, it over-expanded specific scenes that didn't need to be expanded. I never found myself bored with the experience, but I can see that there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing. Despite its flaws, the story had enough passion in its soul to provide an enjoyable and well-crafted tribute to a well-known artist. Part of the film's soul belongs to the cast, who were stellar in their roles. The show's real star was, unsurprisingly, Jennifer Hudson, who deserves to stand alongside the other perfectly-cast actors regarding the biopic genre. Her performance as Aretha Franklin was not only superb and heartfelt but also magnetic when it comes to her incredible singing voice. She has the voice that would make only the real Aretha Franklin incredibly proud. I'm so happy that Hudson's still impressing me with her talent. Forest Whitaker was also highly riveting as C. L. Franklin, Aretha's father, and Marlon Wayans was unexpectedly effective in his against-type performance as Aretha's abusive husband, Ted White. After seeing Wayans in his comedies, it was nice to witness the comedian going out of his comfort zone to portray a disrespectful and hot-headed jerk like White. Whether or not he'll continue to pursue more serious roles like this is anyone's guess at this point. I also want to mention the film's costume designs, which were just as gorgeous as its concert sequences. While not as creative and wild as the costumes in "Rocketman", the clothing in "Respect" was simplistic and eye-popping enough to stand out alongside the actors who wore them.
Overall, "Respect" is yet another suitable music-related biopic that earned my attention and, more importantly, my respect. Its familiar elements and pacing kept it from being a possible strong contender for this year's award season. Still, it's an intriguing yet overlong experience that'll satisfy plenty of Aretha Franklin fans with its compelling cast (notably Hudson), Liesl Tommy's proper sense of direction, and its eye-catching costumes. It is worth a watch if you're familiar with the late singer or if you're curious about how she came to be.