Jennifer Hudson steps into the soul of Aretha Franklin and socks it to the critics in this biopic about the legendary diva’s early years.
Respect is at its best when showing Franklin’s beginnings and work with Martin Luther King (Gilbert Glenn Brown) and the civil rights movement. The “pressure of fame” scenes feel profunctory but make up just a little bit of the film’s running time.
There are some remarkably clumsy scenes and heavy-handed tropes, and it’s telling that 20 years in Franklin’s life gives less insight into her character than one day of Ma Rainey‘s. But the focus on her early life is welcome, if disappointing to anyone who wanted to see her throw shade at Taylor Swift.
Hudson pours all her passion into portraying the legend with heart and authenticity. Yes, her vocals lack that extra something that made Franklin the Queen of Soul, but short of being gifted with a once-a-century voice it’s hard to see what else she can do, and her voice is adequate to carry the film.
Forest Whitaker is also superb as her father, their relationship treading a tricky balance between abusive and mutually beneficial. Like Judy it’s too often focused on the misery of her life rather than the joy she brought, but the joyous moments are big and uplifting, which will not surprise anyone who’s seen Amazing Grace. This results in a perfectly watchable film, which treats an icon with the respect she deserves.