'Respect' Review With Casey
The following is an unedited trasncript.
The big-scale, mainstream biopic is back with Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls, 2006) playing Aretha Franklin. Starting out as a young, devout, church girl in Detroit who, through perseverance and raw talent, becomes the queen of soul. First, let me say Jennifer Hudson's musical performance is brilliant. Singing all the songs in the film live without any lip-syncing or dubbing with studio recordings, her voice is limber, assertive, deep, and alarming. The star of Respect is really the music, with parts of the film's 2-hour-and-25-minute run time showing the loose, organic, collaborative creation of famous songs. Those scenes feel easy and well-crafted. Those scenes are also effective in showing Aretha Franklin as a gifted music producer, pianist, and song arranger.
Now let's get to the other side of the record. Jennifer Hudson's performance is good. You can tell she put in the time to move and speak like Aretha. The film does not have this same focus. A lack of gracefulness in the editing and story progression makes Respect feel like it's trying to go in too many directions at the same time. Aretha was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, she had many failed albums at the start of her career, she survived a destructive first husband, she participated in the Civil Rights Movement, she struggled with alcohol addiction, and the list goes on. Some of these elements are explored with patient artistic interest....and some feel hurriedly shoved into the film.
The dialogue feels mainly comprised of overused phrases that are meant to be relatable but, instead, feel forced and unoriginal. Moments of violence and emotional darkness are included in the film, but they're only small pieces of a tapestry largely devoted to Aretha Franklin's songs and musicianship. Without the raw, dirty, or difficult parts of the singer's life taking a larger part of the story, Respect ends up just being okay. It's reminiscent of other singer biopics like What's Love Got to Do with It? (1993), Lady Sings the Blues (1972), La Vie En Rose (2007), and The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2020). But it lacks the creative or heated edge of those other films to really offer viewers something exciting or fresh.
Respect has great music and mesmerizing vocals but nothing else that will wow audiences.