Toward the end of 2010, Rolling Stone released a list of the top 100 vocalists of all time. I remember at the time being a bit shocked that Elvis was not at the top of the list (he was 3). When I saw that #1 was Aretha Franklin, I thought to myself “Oh, well, okay. That makes sense.”
People who think Aretha was not a good singer are people who most likely do not exist, or at least people I have not met or heard of. Right from the beginning of Respect, we know she is being told at a young age that her voice is a gift from God. The movie is clear in telling us this, but not entirely in giving us much more.
Perhaps that is not entirely the fault of the film. Afterall, the formula for the musical biopic does seem to grow more stagnate the more these films are produced. That said, the audience will go to the movie mainly for the performances. On that note (pun intended), Respect is worth the watch, because no one other than Jennifer Hudson would be able to portray the Queen of Soul (not long before her 2018 passing, Aretha herself said she wanted Hudson to play her). No one has managed (and likely never will) to get close to the bar that Franklin set when it comes to singing, but Hudson is indeed the closest (at least who is living).
The film shows the life of “Re Re” from the late 50s to the early 70s, as we see her music career start under the wing of her Reverend father (Forest Whitaker) before she is pulled in by her soon to be first husband Ted White (Marlon Wayans, who I must admit does solid work here since I did not recognize him for nearly an hour of the film). Much of these scenes of family drama do feel familiar, but the acting in them is still rather notable.
Of course, we are going to get the scenes of coming up with songs we all know, and the construction of these scenes do in fact flirt a bit with banality. This is the first film for director Liesl Tommy (she has done episodes of Jessica Jones and The Walking Dead), so I can understand it being her first film and all.
Parents, the film is a solid PG-13. While there is no nudity, sex is indeed implied. Franklin was first pregnant at the age of 12, so there is a scene where the young Aretha (a very talented young actress named Skye Dakota Turner, in her first film role) is confronted in her bedroom by an older man. While it is filmed without any physicality, it still does not make it anymore less cringe. Add in the swearing and the racial slurs of the time, and I would say mature middle schoolers and above.
Of course, the end of the film does show us one of the last performances by the real Queen of Soul in 2015, when she sang “Natural Woman” for the song’s writer (and her friend) Carole King. Her voice and her spark were as bright as ever, and stayed that way her whole life. She was truly irreplaceable.
Still, while the rest of Respect does not provide us with the voice of the Queen of Soul, there is no denying the talent of Jennifer Hudson.
(Well, unless you were the questionable voters of Season 3 of American Idol, but never mind.)