Respect - Movie Review

It’s Jennifer Hudson’s Show - and She Delivers
Jennifer Hudson is the Queen of Soul
Jennifer Hudson is the Queen of Soul(IMDB)
Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 10:40 AM EDT
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Jennifer Hudson finally gets the RESPECT she deserves, playing musical icon, Aretha Franklin in the music biopic directed by Liesl Tommy from a story by Oscar winner Callie Khouri and Tracy Scott Wilson with screenplay credit going solely to Wilson. Hudson breaks her Oscar curse, after winning an Oscar for her first film Dreamgirls, fifteen years ago. She is fantastic.

The filmmakers wisely chose a section of Miss Franklin’s life, focusing on approximately twenty years, from 1952 to 1972. Often biopics feel too broad and sweeping because they try to cover too many years. We discover Aretha as a ten-year-old (Skye Dakota Turner), where she is already a consummate performer who must sing for her supper at her father’s raucous house parties. Although she loves singing, she is clearly exploited by her mercurial, charismatic reverend father played by Oscar Winner Forest Whitaker. Aretha’s mother, played by six-time Tony award winner Audra McDonald, is estranged from her father and Re (Aretha’s nickname) relishes visits from her mother. Rev. Franklin is an abusive and controlling husband and father. His relationship with Aretha is complicated and difficult her entire life. Unfortunately, Aretha repeats this pattern by choosing a controlling and abusive husband, Ted White (Marlon Wayans), who is also her manager.

The thesis behind Respect is Aretha finding her true voice and releasing herself from her demons. Although discussion of these demons is a bit glossed over in the film, it is implied the demons come from the trauma of Aretha’s childhood, including her parents’ divorce, her and childhood rapes that left her pregnant twice before she was fifteen.

The pregnancies and childhood rapes are handled vaguely, with little details. The film would have benefited from more clarity, (not necessarily graphic details) about who the father might be, and how these teenage pregnancies affected her forever. These two children, Clarence and Eddie are barely seen in the film. Throughout all this, Aretha’s music and singing is the way out of the pain, or “through the pain” would be more accurate. Singing and music are healing.

Aretha’s early career, at Columbia Records involved albums of Aretha singing standards written by and for other performers. After several albums, Aretha still doesn’t have any hits, and she realizes she must change everything about her career. Including changing labels to Atlantic, writing original songs as well as recording in Alabama with a white band. Ted’s ego and controlling behavior threaten the successful outcome of this new venture, even though he realizes she does need to change everything.

The scenes of Aretha working with the band to discover the songs are illuminating and prove that she wasn’t just a brilliant singer, but a consummate, musician, producer arranger and collaborator.

Marc Maron does a great job as Franklin’s Atlantic producer, Jerry Wexler. The rest of the supporting cast is excellent, especially Titus Burgess, Kimberly Scott and Brenda Nicole Moorer. The film suffers a bit from typical biopic scenes and compression of time, but no matter as Hudson is everything. Her ability to sing act is unparalleled and she is magnetic, believable, and vulnerable. The last five minutes of the film, when she sings Amazing Grace as Aretha is spellbinding. I could watch Jennifer Hudson singing on screen all day, and I would have goosebumps the entire time.

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