The life and career of Aretha Franklin are told in Respect. Ever since childhood, Aretha Franklin (Jennifer Hudson) was dressed with an extremely gifted singing voice, though she was not satisfied with the choices of her minister father C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker). Aretha ends up marrying Ted White (Marlon Wayans), who also becomes her manager, as Aretha signs a recording deal with Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron), leading to her success as the “Queen of Soul.” However, Ted's abuse of Aretha and her growing dependency on alcohol threatens her status at the top of the R&B charts.
Respect is a biopic of Aretha Franklin directed by first-time filmmaker Liesl Tommy. The film stars Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) in a role that was handpicked by Aretha Franklin, prior to her death in 2018. The film kicks off with Aretha as a child (Skye Dakota Turner), who sings for the friends of her father. However, Aretha's demons begin to emerge as she is the victim of sexual abuse, leading to her teenage pregnancy, and is deeply affected by the tragic death of her mother. As an adult, Aretha is advised by Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige) to find a voice of her own, leading to her breaking away from the control of her father and becoming a highly successful soul singer. However, abuse at the hands of her husband Ted White and the pressures of performing soon get to Aretha, threatening to bring down everything that she has built.
I'm going to start with the biggest positive of Respect and say that Jennifer Hudson is perfectly cast as Aretha Franklin, with actor/singer belting out the Queen of Soul's many hits, including the titular song, over the course of the 2h 25m film. I would be surprised if Hudson doesn't get a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the role, nearly 15 years after winning Best Supporting Actress for her breakout role in 2006's Dreamgirls. However, the film around Jennifer Hudson's performance is OK at best, following the basic biopic formula.
Not surprisingly, Respect only covers a slice of Aretha Franklin's multi-decade career, covering the start of her recording career in the early 1960s to the in-church recording of her 1972 “Amazing Grace” record. Save for the first act of the film detailing Aretha Franklin's childhood, Jennifer Hudson portrays Aretha all through the decade-plus timespan of the film, adopting the various looks the singer had over this time period. There aren't too many standouts among the supporting cast of the film, save for Forest Whitaker as C.L. Franklin, Marc Maron adding some comic relief as record producer Jerry Wexler, and Marlon Wayans being quite against type as Aretha's abusive first-husband and manager Ted White.
Ultimately, Respect suffers somewhat from its long length, and unless you are a diehard Aretha Franklin fan, there is not much to recommend apart from Jennifer Hudson's lead performance.