Aretha Franklin was rightly dubbed the Queen of Soul and her signature song R.E.S.P.E.C.T became both a classic and a nightmare for dyslexic karaoke singers. It takes a giant voice to do the role justice and Jennifer Hudson was born to play this role but Respect ,the much anticipated bio-pic starts with Aretha as a 10 year old girl played in captivating style by Skye Dakota Turner as her preacher father (Forest Whitaker) wakes her up in order for her to sing to his party guests. Now whilst in normal circumstances the rest of us would shuffle uncomfortably as some precocious X-Factor wannabe caterwauls their way through Britney’s back catalogue, young Aretha is jaw droppingly good. ‘She’s only 10 but her voice is going on 30!’ says one party guest. And they are right because Aretha, or Ree as she’s is known throughout her life, knocks it out of the park as she sings for the party guests.
It’s a moment in her life when as a child she is truly happy because her as she grows up she is to be hit by a tumultuous series of incidents. Her father, a by the book strict man intent on controlling his talented daughter’s career is one of several male influences on her life, the other being her abusive husband Ted White (Marlon Wayans) and though her parents were separated and she lived with her father and sisters it’s her mother she loves dearly and is the first devastating moment in her life when she overhears that her mother has died.
But it’s Hudson who gets to play Ree for the majority of the film and is given ample opportunity to belt out the songs Franklin became synonymous with and obviously takes in rendition of so many songs including Respect, I Never Loved a Man & Think! that it’s almost a musical and its always made clear that she was both a brilliant interpreter and re-arranger of songs giving them an almost instant classic status that would make it impossible for anyone else to cover without thinking that Ree did it better.
From the dramatic side of the film it’s her battle with both her father and her husband Ted that are featured most prominently and Marlon Wayans thankfully moves away from his comedy origins towards a role that’s far removed from the goofy slapstick he made his name with. In the same way that both Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon, Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher and Eddie Murphy in Dream Girls (a similarly themed film also starring Hudson that won her an Oscar) proved themselves as superb straight actors, Wayans also goes for broke though is not as successful here but nonetheless bodes well for future dramatic roles he might play
Franklin’s life was one of success and acclaim but with trauma and distress just around the corner and it’s almost too much for one film despite the film’s running time being 145 minutes. Domestic abuse, sexual assault and alcoholism were all significant parts of her life but because there’s so much important moments in her life the film mostly documents rather explores. Ultimately Respect is a triumphant story ending with the documentary footage of her barnstorming performance towards the end of her life in front of an audience that included Barack Obama.
As engrossing as it is the film ends with her 1972 gospel performance in her father’s church and unearthed almost fifty years later in the stunning documentary ‘Amazing Grace’ (reviewed HERE). Directed by Liesl Tommy, Respect is a little overlong but then that is only to be expected for such a full life and perhaps would have been better suited for a two- parter film or just go for broke with a epic film but with a sharper script. But the essence of the film is Hudson’s outstanding central performance and for that alone Respect is worth seeing
Here’s the Respect trailer……