Reflector Reviews: Respect

Andrew Eunice

“Respect”, written by Tracey Scott Wilson, directed by Liesl Tommy, and starring Jennifer Hudson, follows the life and career of quintessential soul artist Aretha Franklin. To it’s benefit, but also to its detriment, this film gives you exactly what you’d expect if you are familiar with musical biopics. 

There is a lot to love in this film. Jennifer Hudson absolutely commands the screen as Aretha Franklin, and her co-stars give great support as the story progresses. Forest Whitaker as her father, C.L. Franklin, is especially great here as one would expect from such seasoned talent. Marlon Waynes as Ted White surprisingly works, as Marlon is known primarily for low-grade comedy. 

As far as objectives go, the number one objective for these kind of films is to make sure the musical sequences don’t fail. For a film which the main selling point is the music, even a Citizen Kane level story won’t work if the music falls flat. And I am happy to report that is not the case. As a matter of fact, I would go as far to say that this film might actually have the greatest music sequences of any musical biopic. Trust that I have seen all of them, and nothing I have ever seen in a musical biopic comes close to the music sequences that are crafted here. 

This film has a lot going for it. If you have read this far you might think that I absolutely love this movie, and that I am giving it the biggest thumbs up I can. And I will reiterate that there are a lot of things in this film to love. It has everything going for it: a stellar cast, phenomenal cinematography and directing, and a compelling real-life story to use and pull from. Unfortunately to its detriment, it suffers the biggest challenge that all musical biopics have faced. This film suffers mainly from not knowing how much of Aretha’s life should be presented, and it also clearly doesn’t know how to do so. 

Even though the sequence of events within the first act flow logically as far as pacing goes, the dialogue is absolutely atrocious. The conversations feel as if they have been cut extremely short so the filmmakers can give themselves the space to cram in as many events as they can. Many of them carry through to the other acts of the film, but some of them are left behind providing no substantial value to the story. It feels as though the filmmakers couldn’t decide what events in Aretha’s life could be left in the writer’s room so they could craft a more competently-paced script, so they decided not to cut a single thing out. 

Everything is told in explicit form as if the writer didn’t feel confident enough for the audience to understand ambiguity. As a result, the film has an extremely hard time finding its footing. It finds some resemblance of a competent story within the second act as Aretha’s career starts to take shape, but even then the story is still held up by weak framework. Aretha’s character arc is clear as far as where the filmmakers are taking her, however by the end it was extremely bloated to the point where I stopped caring. 

By the time the third act rolled around, the film had already overstayed its welcome. And this is where the lack of focus within this screenplay shows it’s biggest sins. By introducing character elements and motivations within Aretha that were very thinly established within the preceding acts, it exposes the fact that the screenwriter didn’t have a clear enough vision for

how the story was going to unfold. Telling every single event within the timeframe that they happened doesn’t work when you have to make a two and a half hour movie to cram it all in, and none of the plotlines have strong enough threads to craft a competent story. 

All in all, this movie showcases very strong performances from it’s robust cast, and it features the best music sequences of any musical biopic I have ever seen. But besides those things, this movie doesn’t provide much else to desire. 

Grade: C+