Directed by Leisl Tommy, Jennifer Hudson stars in this biopic of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. It charts her life from a child, singing at her fathers (Forest Whitaker) Church, through her early unsuccessful recording career to her timeless classic hits. We see her abusive relationships, involvement in the civil rights movement and addictive behaviour, before finding strength again in the church, leading to her 1972 recording of the gospel album Amazing Grace.
Aretha Franklin is a musical legend, with a fascinating life and incredible career and there lies the problem for Respect. There seems to be two approaches to a good biopic, pick a specific part of someones life and focus on that or go magical musical a-la Rocketman. Respect does neither instead it offers an unsatisfactory series of vignettes of her life, joined loosely together by moments of her music.
It’s at its best when Hudson (chosen by Franklin to portray her) is performing from Aretha’s back catalogue. Performances are solid enough, Hudsons talent shines as the lead, Marlon Wayans supports her well as abusive partner Ted White and Marc Maron steals plenty of scenes doing his best Maron as producer Jerry Wexler. They all do what they can with the flimsy script.
Franklin’s life is fascinating and full and her music timeless, but it feels Respect never quite knows what to do with it. There’s also a lack of context to where we are in her life or what is happening around her. At nearly 2 1/2 hours long it comes with some pacing problems and feels like it’s dragging on occasion.
That is a pity, because Aretha Franklin’s story does deserve a better telling. Maybe the most damming thing is in the closing credits there is a clip of Franklin playing for the Obama’s. All that made me think was about the magic of her performances and how it was missing from this.
Respect is watchable, mostly because it’s peppered with brilliant music and Hudson is good in the central role. But its narrative is muddled and pacing problematic. Franklin’s story deserved better.