RESPECT Movie Review: I woke up this morning singing Aretha Franklin songs. It wasn’t pretty, but I was belting them out like I was the Queen of Soul herself. Just ask my wife and my two Siberian Huskys. They will tell you all about the concert they were subjected to. Things really took a turn when I got to my rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Yeah, it was…something. But I couldn’t help myself. I actually went to bed with those classic songs playing on shuffle as I went to sleep. I should explain, we had just gotten out of the 7:00 pm showing of the new Aretha Franklin biopic, RESPECT.
I am a sucker for just about any movie about the life of a music artist or band. These are must-see films for me. I have to admit that the last few music biopic films I have seen have left me underwhelmed. 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody and 2019’s Rocketman totally missed the mark for me. So, when I went into the theater for RESPECT, my expectations were low. But, as I believe so many will tell you, Aretha never disappoints!
There is really no fancy way to say what I want to say other than, this film is brilliant! It is a perfect balance between telling the story of the person and telling the story of the music. The first half an hour or so of the music is a hard watch. You meet a 10-year-old Aretha. You get right away that even at this young age she had the talent of someone well beyond her age, but she also had to face things well beyond her age as well. The film’s director handles the delicate issues of abuse and tragedy that a young Franklin faced through tasteful, yet impactful storytelling. That storytelling carries on throughout the rest of the film. The story of Aretha Franklin is sacred ground, and the filmmakers rose to the occasion in the RESPECT movie.
Okay, I am four paragraphs in and I have not mentioned the name Jennifer Hudson once. Let’s fix that right now. I am not very familiar with much of Hudson’s work, and I don’t say that in a bad way, but just to preface that there is no bias in what I am about to write. There is no one else on the planet who could have played the role of Aretha Franklin except Jennifer Hudson. In fact, Hudson was handpicked by Franklin herself to play this part. Obviously, Hudson has the pipes to sing those iconic songs (and sing the heck out of them she did,) but she also seemed to capture the person of Aretha Franklin as well. The actress made it all about Franklin, not about herself. Her performance seemed effortless and believable. I felt like I was watching Aretha Franklin on the screen, not Jennifer Hudson. I believe Jennifer Hudson will go from Academy Award winner to two-time Academy Award winner when the Oscars roll back around.
The rest of the film’s cast was awesome as well. Most notable is Marlon Wayans and his performance as Ted White in the film. Now, when I think of Marlon Wayans, I think of films like White Chicks and Scary Movie. The RESPECT movie changed that for me. Wayans played the part to perfection. The character was not a good man. In fact, he was the worst kind of man there is. Marlon Wayans conveyed that in a convincing way. In fact, members of the audience in the theater with us were audible with their feelings of this character multiple times during the screening. Marlon Wayans got the exact reaction that was needed out of Ted White. There were so many great performances during this movie, I can’t mention them all. But you have Forest Whitaker…I mean, do I have to say anything about a Forest Whitaker performance? Marc Maron and Tituss Burgess both need to be named for what they brought to the film as Jerry Wexler and James Cleveland.
I mentioned earlier the balance the movie struck between Aretha Franklin the person, and the music that she made. I think it’s time we talk about the music. Like I also said earlier, the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody left me underwhelmed as it went into great detail about Freddy Mercury the person, but left the music of Queen in the background at best. Some of my favorite scenes in the RESPECT movie are about the songs. The most memorable has Franklin behind the piano inside the infamous Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL working with The Swampers on the song, “I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You.) In the scene you see Aretha Franklin and the musicians build the song from the ground up. That moment in the film gave me chills. The same thing happens when Franklin wakes up her sisters, Carolyn and Clara, in the middle of the night to help her on her arrangement of RESPECT. It was another goosebump moment that will always come to mind every time I hear that song. The songs are treated with such reverence in the film, and are treated as the gems that they are. Most of the songs are played in their entirety and take center stage in the film. Not just one performance at the end (take note Bohemian Rhapsody.)
So, there you go. My take on the RESPECT movie. But I urge you to go see it for yourself in the theater. It is an experience that will have you singing, dancing, crying, and rejoicing. The magical moments of our viewing of the film is when the audience in the theater collectively broke out into applause after a performance scene in the film, and expressed true emotions during pivotal moments of Aretha Franklin’s life. At times I forgot I was at a movie, as it felt more like a concert. And there is a special treat at the end of the film that you will not want to miss. If you didn’t have it going in, you will have it when you walk out… R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.
Watch The Movie, Listen To The Music