Today I had the chance to see the new musical bio-pic about the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, called Respect at an early public screening put on by Fandango. Of course, this is a film that was supposed to be part of the Oscar discussion last year but was delayed several times because of COVID. Now we get to see it and to put it bluntly I wasn’t a big fan.
The strength of Respect is in the cast. Of course, Jennifer Hudson kills it as Aretha. She isn’t an Oscar winner for nothing. There is nobody better you could cast for this role than her. The supporting cast is also solid with Forest Whitaker and Audra McDonald playing Aretha’s parents and Marlon Wayans playing her first husband Ted White.
The production is also well done with faithful recreations of iconic moments like the Amazing Grace concert at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in 1972. You can watch a great documentary on the topic called Amazing Grace which came out in 2018.
The problem with this movie is it is trying to wedge a story with lots of trauma into the inspirational true story musical bio-pic template and the whole thing comes off quite clunkily and weird.
If you didn’t know, Franklin had a child at the age of 12 and the movie brushes this aside this child rape as if it is nothing. The real trauma from her life evidently comes from squabbles with her producer or wanting to be more involved in the Civil Rights Movement when her Dad objects.
From what I’ve read Franklin didn’t like to talk about her oldest children in interviews and so there may not be a lot of information to go off of but to spend mere minutes on something truly horrific and move on to over 2 hours on standard run-of-the mill musician life events rubbed me the wrong way.
Earlier this year there was a Lifetime movie about Mahalia Jackson and it was better than this film. It of course won’t get the same praise because it is a Lifetime movie but it felt more honest about Mahalia’s troubles and traumas than this did. I wouldn’t be surprised if Franklin’s estate got final look on this. It felt scrubbed.
My advice is to watch Amazing Grace instead of Respect and enjoy Franklin’s music or watch Dreamgirls again and see why Hudson won her Oscar. She’s great. This movie, on the other hand, is a long disingenuous take on one of our greatest divas and she deserves better.
3 out of 10