Celebrating the “Queen”: “Respect” Film Review

Celebrating the Queen: Respect Film Review

Lucas Cohen-D'Arbeloff

“Respect,” the new biographical film depicting the life of singer Aretha Franklin, is fantastic, balancing both originality and historical accuracy with a keen storytelling eye.

Actress Jennifer Hudson stars in the film and was hand-picked to play the role by the “Queen of Soul” herself before Franklin’s death in 2018. Hudson shines brightly from her first moments on screen. She opts not to perform a formulaic imitation of Franklin’s killer voice and instead allows her own strong vocals to stand out. Given the two singers’ similarities in tone, this was an artful choice that rendered Hudson’s performance believable.

The most captivating portion of the movie is also probably the least known by Franklin’s fans: her childhood. Audiences learn that Franklin wowed small audiences as a child (played by Skye Dakota Turner), serenading them with tunes like “My Baby Likes to Bebop” at her father’s dinner parties and singing regularly at church. But the film does not shy away from Franklin’s significant trauma, such as enduring sexual abuse and losing her mother at an early age. “Respect” handles these plot points well, approaching them in earnest without being insensitive.

The film also weaves the origin stories for some of Franklin’s most famous songs into its narrative. Franklin’s musical experimentation with the Muscle Shoals band in Alabama resulted in her first hit, “I Never Loved a Man.” Her sister Carolyn wrote the ballad “Ain’t No Way” and sang backup for her. Viewers now have context as they enjoy Franklin’s music, and they can imagine Franklin’s mindset as she created these songs. This is the mark of terrific art; it transcends its format to shape people’s experiences for years to come.

As the film progresses, it does take a few liberties with the facts of Franklin’s life. Singer Dinah Washington probably did not violently flip over a table after Franklin tried to sing a tribute to her, as the movie suggests. But inspired choices like these are key to differentiating an exceptional biopic from a standard one, as they indicate thoughtful storytelling.

Hudson’s performance would be enough to make the film great on its own, but the movie also delights fans by providing insight into fascinating little-known details of Franklin’s life. It is safe to say “Respect” has done the “Queen” justice.