Blu-ray Review: ‘Respect’

Review by James Lindorf

When the creative team sat down to craft a list of people they wished would star in the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect,” top of that list had to be Jennifer Hudson. She is a bonafide superstar in her own right; she has multiple grammies and won the best supporting actress Oscar for her debut in “Dreamgirls.” It was such an obvious decision that the Queen of Soul made it clear Hudson was her choice. “Respect” rocked theaters this summer, and now you can experience it at home when “Respect” is released on Blu-Ray and DVD on November 9th.

Hudson nails her performance from the authentic songwriting moments in the studio to Aretha’s start at a Detroit baptist church, her years-long pursuit of stardom, and her struggles with alcohol and abusive relationships. Franklin had a once-in-a-generation voice that began in the church, was born again there, and will live on forever. Under the direction of TV veteran, Liesl Tommy Hudson brought grace and power to every moment. Tracey Scott Wilson penned a fairly comprehensive screenplay covering 20 years of Aretha’s life. She started in 1952 when Aretha was a precocious 10-year-old singing at her father’s parties to 1972 and the recording of `Amazing Grace,’ the most successful gospel album of all time.

“Respect” is a relatively formulaic biopic of Franklin’s already well-chronicled life, choosing to focus more on the darkness and the downfalls than the highlights. That is a contributing factor to the weakest element of the film. Tommy and Wilson too often seemed captivated by the dichotomy between Franklin’s talent and the harm she suffers at the hands of others. It appears that their goal was to get the audience to say can you believe she could sing so well or become so famous after dealing with x, y, and z. They never wanted to explore the damage caused by these events or the work it takes to overcome it and move on. What was it like for her to have a child at 11 years old? How did she feel safe around men after being physically abused by her husband and controlled by her father? How did she overcome her addiction? All of these questions will go unanswered to the detriment of the film’s heart, making a movie about the Queen of Soul a little soulless.

Even though the story tends to play on the surface, the depth is provided by the performances of Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, and Hudson. Whitaker is excellent as the music-loving preacher father whose word is second only to God’s. Marlon is usually the comedic relief and may surprise many viewers as the violently angry husband and producer. As good as the supporting cast may be, Hudson and her passionate interpretation of Franklin is what keeps your attention between musical performances. She breathes life into the depths of the drama, and she soars and shakes the world with vocals that would make Franklin proud. If the story asked more of her, we would be talking about when she wins her next oscar, not about the odds of her being nominated.

Hudson and the movie itself deserved more “Respect” than it got from the box office this summer. It should delight audiences worldwide now that MGM is letting us bring Aretha home for the holidays. For her first feature film, Director Liesl Tommy has earned a 4 out of 5.

Rating: PG-13
Genre: Music, Biography, Drama
Original Language: English
Director: Liesl Tommy
Producer: Harvey Mason Jr., Scott Bernstein, Jonathan Glickman, Stacey Sher
Writer: Tracey Scott Wilson
Release Date (Theaters): August 13th, 2021
Release Date (Streaming): September 28th, 2021
Release Date (Disc): November 9th, 2021
Box Office (Gross USA): $24.3M
Runtime: 2h 25m
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

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