Aretha Franklin was a powerful force in music and Civil Rights, and this movie certainly touches on both of those aspects.
One just wishes the quality of the film had been above that of a standard biopic.
“Respect” mainly follows Franklin’s (Jennifer Hudson) childhood and roughly the first 10 to 15 years of her career. The film opens with Franklin losing her mother and the impact the death leaves on her.
From there, it follows how music helped Franklin open up again after her mother’s death. Then, the picture focuses on how Franklin went from a lead singer at her father’s (Forest Whitaker) church to a struggling singer, and then finally breaking through to success.
The most interesting aspects of Franklin’s life are featured, but they are sadly lost in the mix as the film rolls on with a paint-by-numbers musical biopic. Franklin had two children at a very young age, something that must have been an immensely tough period, yet the movie doesn’t spend nearly enough time on this subject.
Another matter not receiving enough attention was Franklin’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. There are a few scenes placed in, such as Franklin having a discussion about the effort with Martin Luther King, (Gilbert Glenn Brown) yet these seem fleeting as the film keeps on its path of checking things off the list.
Even if the film wanted to go the more traditional route of a biopic, it could’ve still tried to get creative with it. A few years ago, “Rocketman” was released, and while the story mainly followed Elton John’s life story, it was far more creative with the musical sequences.
“Respect” could’ve been stronger if the musical scenes had incorporated the impact the songs had on people, rather than just scenes on stage and in a studio.
Fortunately, “Respect” is significantly helped by the powerful performance from Hudson. She is phenomenal in the role, masterfully handling the emotional scenes while showing off her abilities in every musical moment.
Franklin’s voice moved audiences and Hudson captures that every time she sings one of the well known hits. Hudson also does strong work in humanizing Franklin in several scenes.
While the rest of the cast included some talented performers, though, they’re let down by the film’s script. Many of the surrounding characters come across as 0ne dimensional, despite the best efforts of the actors, such as Whitaker.
It’s unfortunate that “Respect” falls into a lot of the musical biopic traps because there was a great opportunity to showcase Franklin as a voice for change. In addition to fighting for racial equality, she also championed women’s rights.
With these aspects being merely highlighted, the impact isn’t as felt. Audiences still get to experience the musical genius of the woman, but there was more to explore. Hudson’s performance should rightfully get award recognition this winter, but the rest of the movie falls short of its potential. 2.75 out of 5.