Jennifer Hudson is a force of nature. It appears that if she is going to sing in a movie, she’ll only do it if there’s a chance she’ll win an Oscar. Get that dress ready because, in director Liesl Tommy’s Respect, Jennifer Hudson IS the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.
The biopic starts with a young “Re” (Skye Dakota Turner), eager to sing at the request of her influential and controlling minister father, C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker). Her early life was about abuse and control. C.L. ran everything, dictating who she could date and what record label would ultimately sign her. Their relationship was tumultuous, and she shut down after being sexually assaulted during one of her father’s house parties.
“…walks us through Aretha’s rise to fame, abusive marriage, civil rights activism…and her ultimate bout with alcoholism.”
Finding very little success on the charts, Aretha (played as an adult by Hudson) takes control of her destiny. She marries the morally shakey Ted (Marlon Wayans) and signs with a record producer Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron), who promises her complete creative control and introduces her to her white band, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The screenplay, by Tracey Scott Wilson, then walks us through Aretha’s rise to fame, abusive marriage, civil rights activism involving family friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Gilbert Glenn Brown), and her ultimate bout with alcoholism.
Let me now attest to the greatness of Respect. It’s all on Jennifer Hudson. She wisely chooses not to attempt an “impression” of Aretha. Instead, she finds Franklin’s essence and acts her way through the transformation to the independent woman who no longer lets a man run her life (which we see was not easy to do). We all know Hudson’s singing abilities, she’s a powerhouse who holds nothing back, and I dare you not to tap your toes or slap that knee. She sings live throughout the film. No pre-taping or lip-syncing!
"…the music is like truffles on top of a fantastic meal."