Director: Liesl Tommy
Writers: Tracey Scott Wilson and Callie Khouri
Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Skye Dakota Turner, Tate Donovan, and Mary J. Blige
Plot: A retelling of the life of iconic soul singer Aretha Franklin.
Review: You know? I like Aretha Franklin as much as the next person. She’s one of the most talented individuals to ever walk the planet. And I respect (pun not intended) the struggles she went through in life. However, I’m not sure there’s quite enough here for her to be given her own movie. Respect (the movie) feels very forced. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s passion project. Like someone was sitting around and thought “Yeah. Aretha Franklin should probably have a movie” but didn’t put a lot of effort into it beyond that.
Honestly, Aretha Franklin did not live a boring life. If someone just sat you down and told you this story, you’d probably be fascinated. There’s a lot of intrigue including several abusers, her finding her voice, finally standing up for herself, the joy of gaining a following, the pain and suffering that comes with that following, alcoholism, depression, etc., etc. It’s not a dull adventure. The problem is that seemingly EVERY rock star goes through the same tribulations. We’ve seen it all before. Maybe not Ms. Franklin’s version, sure, but her story sadly isn’t that far removed from everyone else’s. You could go through the entire list of inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I’m sure they could all give you similar stories. So, unfortunately, a good life story isn’t going to cut it in the music biopic game now. The field is just too crowded. You’ve got to do something new and interesting with the direction and/or the storytelling. That’s why I enjoyed Rocketman so much. It felt like a work of art first and a biopic second. The musical angle, the cinematography, the acting. It felt unique. Meanwhile, in it’s straightforward approach, I was very underwhelmed by Bohemian Rhapsody. It just felt like a quick adaptation of Queen’s Wikipedia page. Well, I’m saddened to say that Respect has even less flair than Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s about as vanilla, directing wise, as they come. Other than some great performances by the cast, you could easily convince me that this is a Lifetime original. It was very straightforward and very “been there, done that”.
I wouldn’t go as far as to call Respect a bad movie though. Even with being mostly unimpressed by it, I was rarely bored. Jennifer Hudson’s performance is very good, especially when she gets the chance to replicate Franklin’s iconic songs. Of course, the soundtrack is top notch. And a lot of the supporting cast was terrific too. Forrest Whitaker, especially, was great, playing out Aretha’s complicated relationship with her father. As I said too, the story itself isn’t boring either. It’s a decent enough tale that’ll keep you interested. It’s just when you compare it to every other rocker’s story that you start zoning out a bit. It also leaned a little heavy on the religion in the final act for my taste, but that’s just a personal preference thing. It pretty much boils down to if this is your first music biopic, I think you’ll like it a lot. If you’ve seen a ton like I have, this may feel more than a little cliché. Not bad. Just a little bland.
TL;DR: Respect is a tad bit vanilla and therefore has a hard time standing out in the sea of music biopics.
Score: 6/10 (Ok)