Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Audra McDonald, Marlon Wayans, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Brenda Nicole Moorer, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, Kimberly Scott, LeRoy McClain, Tate Donovan, and Albert Jones
Director: Liesl Tommy
There is a fog-like filter that dampens many shots throughout Respect, which mirrors a muddied first act that, even with the long run time, doesn't sit long enough in its dramatic beats. However, as Jennifer Hudson’s ability to encompass Ms. Franklin's quiet strength grows to match her powerful voice, so does the film. It hangs on Hudson’s every word and note, carried further by a robust ensemble (Marc Maron is a standout) and forceful musical numbers. It takes a bit for Respect to find its footing, but once it does, it takes a mighty hold the rest of the way.
Many things have been said of Aretha Franklin, but none have purported her as being boring, which makes it disappointing that the movie about her doesn't seem too keen on making her story more engaging. Respect seems to have a slight interest in Aretha’s musical abilities and achievements, but next to none in who she was as a person. Jennifer Hudson aces the part, but the script doesn't give her a whole lot to lean on. All in all, it's a rather conventional, unremarkable biopic that runs through the motions without even a cursory stand-out sequence to speak of.
As someone who watched NatGeo’s Genius: Aretha miniseries, my opinion about Respect can’t help but to be colored somewhat. On one hand, having seen the series provided better context for certain aspects of Aretha Franklin’s (Jennifer Hudson) life that the movie skimmed over. On the other hand, it made the movie feel like a rerun in parts. That aside, as a biopic, Respect is fairly rote and formulaic. The only exception to that is Hudson’s voice, which is undeniable as it belts all the Aretha hits that you know and love. That alone was worth the price of admission.