We meet Aretha Franklin as just a young child in this film before following her life and fame. From this introduction, we understand her upbringing and what life was like with her family. Aretha would always have the honour of singing at dinner parties and even being invited to sing at her father’s church. But even as a young child, Aretha encountered several heartbreaking moments. Some of these moments include the fact that she was forced to deal with a tragic loss within her family and experienced betrayal and sexual assault, all of which led to her lacking trust in others. For most of the runtime, the film focuses on Aretha as a young adult when her desire to make hit records was her prime focus. We also see how Aretha overcame many challenges along the way in romances, domestic violence, and racism and how she conquered her past demons.
Performances, for the most part, are pleasing. When it comes to singing and performing on stage, actress Jennifer Hudson nailed her portrayal of Aretha. During the scenes where her character expresses deep emotions, sometimes Jennifer does a solid job, but at other times the performance seems to lack emotion or even something a little more. Most of the time, I enjoyed what she delivered on-screen, and the task of bringing this incredible woman to life would not have been an easy one. Side performances from actors Forest Whitaker as Aretha’s father and Marlon Wayans as her future lover and husband were quite surprising. I was quite pleased with their supportive roles on screen.
As you might expect, as this film is about Aretha Franklin, there are several musical numbers. This is certainly one of the major highlights, and each track looks and sounds incredible. Other major standouts for me were hair, costumes, makeup and the set designs, which were all truly flawless. Throughout the different time periods portrayed, these were highly convincing and wonderful to experience on the big screen.
Pacing, for the most part, is great, but the runtime is certainly far too long. While the film seems to pick and choose which areas of Aretha’s life we get to see, some viewers might be disappointed when they find key moments of her life are not shown or are skipped over. The film is dramatic and heavy, but it overstays its welcome during the final climax. This act took far too long and dragged before delivering a powerful and heartfelt finale. There are also character choices shown on screen that might seem vague or unclear due to how the story is told. Viewers should be prepared that certain moments feel unresolved, and some situations with key characters feel like they are never concluded. The film’s primary focus is Aretha herself.
Overall, this is a heavy and dramatic story that focuses on the life and journey of Aretha Franklin. While the film gets many things right such as musical numbers, side characters performances, costumes and hair designs, the climax does drag on far longer than it needed to. Thankfully, the film does deliver a touching and powerful finale. The story focuses on specific details and generally ignores other aspects of Aretha and other character’s lives that I was curious about. Either way, Respect is a touching and powerful story that I quite enjoyed witnessing and experiencing on the big screen.