Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul herself, has decided who should portray her in the biopic Respect, chosing the Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. Indeed, Hudson does manage to win us over to follow the life of the icon on screen and of course she can sing. However, the performance does not do justice to the power of Aretha's songs and lacks emotion – just a little bit.
Written by Atlanta Kroehn
Aretha as a child is played by the young actress Skye Dakota Turner, who shows in an enchanting way how the singer has a close relationship with music from an early age, loves singing together with her mother. Her father, Baptist pastor, encourages her to sing at sophisticated gatherings or in church. The film also touches on darker themes like the death of her mother or childhood abuse.
In later years, we follow Aretha (Jennifer Hudson) as her music career takes off. Her father plays a big role in her path, until the manager role is taken over by her first husband. But also in this phase of the film darker aspects like domestic violence or alcohol abuse are shown.
Undoubtedly, the biography of the soul singer is an exciting and very meaningful story that definitely belongs in cinema. The film has many touching moments and many catchy scenes. The chemistry between Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker is outstanding, no wonder, as they are playing a daughter-father duo for the 3rd time – Fragments (2008) and Black Nativity (2013). Smaller roles are interestingly casted as well, Tituss Burgess as gospel singer James Cleveland and Mary J. Blige as legendary Dinah Washington.
Yet, just as a good song requires the right sense of timing, a film also needs the right pacing. Something unfortunately this film does not have. The length of 3 hours doesn't help and the fact that the viewer waits over 50 minutes for Aretha’s music to be performed is a pity. From time to time the song Respect is teased but then finally played on stage, the performance disappointed. It should have been celebrated with a fulminant bang instead.
There is a dull 70's very browny, very organey colour palette that the entire film is drenched in, which doesn't seem all that ground-breaking.
Another questionable decision is the selection of scenes from her life that we see and those we don't. One could almost think that the film is more about the men who influenced her life than about herself and besides - why would you stop at the age of 29. The Queen of Soul made music until old age.
The song Respect was not originally created by Aretha Franklin, but by Otis Peeding. However, it was Aretha who made the song a world hit, not only because of her magnificent voice, but also because she put a special meaning into the lyrics, which she fed from her experiences, of which some we can see and relive through the film. Much though remains hidden, and we never get close to her deepest feelings and motives in making life changing decisions - either because she was a very private person or because the film was not up to the task.