Respect is a solid, albeit standard, biopic lifted by an extraordinary central performance and some reliable supporting actors. This look into Aretha Franklin’s life doesn’t attempt to expand the genre, but rather give a graceful entry that pays homage to its subject, acknowledging the traumatic events in her life and her exceptional career highlights.
Respect runs the course of Aretha Franklin’s (Jennifer Hudson) life, from her gospel roots to the height of her career. It looks at the highs and lows of this extraordinary life, from childhood trauma, to a succession of chart topping albums, her constant connection with the civil rights movement, to her abusive marriage and alcoholism.
Jennifer Hudson is perfectly cast here, able to bring to life the numerous musical sequences in Respect, and lends a weight of authenticity to the creation sequences of the film. This is where Respect truly comes to life, giving us a genuine insight into the process that feels more authentic than some of the other historical sequences.
In certain scenes this film can feel like it is hitting those expected biographical notes, but behind studio doors it is somehow a more intimate portrayal of an unfeigned truth. It’s a level of lived experience that shines through from Hudson, something that as a viewer you know instinctively is not being faked, and that heightens the immersion.
Here she’s supported by Forrest Whitaker and Marlon Wayans. Whitaker’s role as her authoritarian father feels a little sanitized out of consideration for the family, but he certainly makes the most of the conflicted character. Meanwhile Wayans shows an oft forgotten dramatic talent in playing the abusive Ted White, although he also balances that with enough charisma to spark that initial attraction from Aretha. It is this combination of flawed men that have a significant effect on Aretha’s life, leading to her struggles with alcoholism.
Although it doesn’t entirely shy away from the negative aspects of the star’s life, Respect is primarily a celebration of the talent of Aretha Franklin and the legacy she’s had. As such, it may fall a little short in this regard when compared to the real Queen of Soul, but it’s hard to see what could measure up. This is a solid attempt, and a stellar performance from Jennifer Hudson.