Whenever people debate whether Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood is the success story of the past “American Idol” (2002- ) winners, I’m usually more surprised Jennifer Hudson isn’t unanimously considered the big, break-out star. Nothing on Clarkson or Underwood, but when you consider Hudson’s Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress with Bill Condon’s retro musical Dreamgirls (2006); or her Grammy for Best R&B Album with her 2008 self-titled debut album; she was clearly destined for stardom.
We don’t see or hear from her a lot these days, but when we do, we’re reminded of how talented she is. Currently in theaters, we get her doing what she does best in Liesl Tommy’s latest movie, Respect.
After nearly a decade in development and being shelved for a year after its original release date was postponed because of the pandemic, Aretha Franklin finally gets her silver screen portrayal. Following the basic music biopic formula, we see Hudson’s and Skye Dakota Turner’s Aretha—or Ree to her family and friends—begin life with early childhood tragedy. In this case it’s the premature death of her mother (played by Audra McDonald), and a pregnancy resulting from sexual assault.
Things look up by the time she’s an adult when Aretha lands a deal with Columbia Records in NYC and marries her manager, Ted White (Marlon Wayans). She struggles for half a decade to release any hits from her jazz records, until Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron) believes she has what it takes to be a soul superstar.
Just watched #Respect and Jennifer Hudson is pure talent.
Also, I’ve seen @marcmaron in movies before, but the scenes between him and Jennifer steal the show!
Both deserve all the praise! pic.twitter.com/BfGSjTbM4D
— Jovy Skol (@jovyskol) August 14, 2021
Respect hits virtually every biopic trope we’ve seen from modern movie classics like James Mangold’s Walk the Line (2005) and Taylor Hackford’s Ray (2004) – from Aretha’s dysfunctional relationship with her father (here portrayed by Forest Whitaker), to her unhappy marriages, to substance abuse. Theatre director and first-time film director Tommy still shows some future project potential with her efforts here. as does fellow theatre alum Tracey Scott Wilson, who penned the script.
What Respect lacks with unique direction and narrative it makes up for with Hudson’s presence. The singer-actress is a true powerhouse every time she’s on screen with both the dramatic scenes and the song numbers. Though Franklin’s original recordings are obviously irreplaceable, it’s always nice to see and hear a movie musical lead be a professional vocalist doing her own singing. And once again, we’re reminded how great Wayans is when he crosses over to dramatic roles outside of goofy comedies.
Tommy’s Respect has its underwhelming moments. But it isn’t quite a missed opportunity like Lee Daniels’ The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021). Or tonally clunky like Bill Pohlad’s Love and Mercy (2014), or as bland as Salim Akil’s Sparkle (2012). It’s that mid-tier level harmless entertainment you enjoy on the TV while winding down after work.
Have you seen Respect? What were your thoughts on the movie? Tell us in the comments!
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