Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin earns better reviews generally than the 'Respect' movie

August 13, 2021, 7:39 AM

[Update of Aug. 9 article]

"Respect," Hollywood's homage to a Detroiter with an iconic first name, draws praise from some reviewers and lukewarm or disappointed reactions from most around the country. The film opens today.

Marlon Wayans, playing first husband Ted White, and Jennifer Hudson. (Photos: MGM Pictures) 

"The classy, reverent biopic ... traces Aretha Franklin's rise from the daughter of a Detroit preacher to the internationally renowned Queen of Soul," Adam Graham says at the start of his Detroit News review, which gives the film a "B" grade.

While "Respect" dutifully honors her journey and roots her on, it's never quite able to achieve the same fighting, fiery spirit as Ms. Franklin so fully embodied. ...

[Jennifer] Hudson does Franklin's vocals justice, in a role that requires plenty of singing. ... [But the script] doesn't allow Hudson to fully inhabit the brassy, vigorous, funny, spirited figure Aretha became.

At The New York Times on Friday, Manohla Dargis calls it "attractively cast and handsomely mounted," but adds:

Taken as a whole, the movie ... doesn't hold you firmly, though it has its moments. ...

"Respect" succeeds in doing exactly what is expected of it. You may argue with this or that filmmaking choice and regret its overly smooth edges, but it does give you a sense of Franklin as a historical figure, a crossover success story and a full-throttle, fur-draped diva. ... Hudson is a deeply appealing screen presence, and it's a pleasure to watch her just walk into a room. She doesn't look or sound like Franklin, but she manages the role confidently and with a pure singing voice that more than holds its own. ...

This movie ... finds an enjoyable groove as Aretha falters and triumphs anew. In the end, it is the music and your love for her that keeps you going and watching.

USA Today critic Brian Truitt givs it just 2.5 stars out of 4, callin the movie "conventionally commonplace" although "Hudson stuns with her performance." 

The drama sparkles whenever Hudson belts out a tune, ... but every other scene in the two and a half hour film just seems like a way to bide time until she sings again. So as a concert film of sorts, it works – as a movie, it could be a lot better. ...

"Respect" never reaches the greatness of its shining star.

Hudson and Mary J. Blige as Dinah Washington.

Similarly,  Entertainment Weekly calls the MGM Pictures release "a dutiful but disappointingly shallow account of Aretha Franklin's early artistic evolution." Mary Sollosi, an assistant features editor, gives it just a C+ rating Monday afternoon:

It isn't nearly as compelling a movie as Franklin was a singer. But while the film never fully captures her brilliance, it does at least effectively allude to it. ...

"Respect" generally hits the notes it needs to, both musically and historically, but comes up short in what should be the most crucial ingredient — soul. Those glimmers of greatness come, appropriately, in the music.

(Poster: MGM Pictures)

Below are snippets from 11 other reviews. 

'Hudson has the pipes:' "Aretha Franklin was as important a female vocalist as America ever produced, and while 'Respect' affords a glimpse of the vulnerable, uncertain woman she once was, audiences fully expect her to appear iconic. Hudson has the pipes as well as the presence, and that, plus the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time, make the film feel more definitive than it is." -- Peter Debruge, Variety

 'Best of all ...:' "It has a good story and great songs and, best of all, it has someone in the lead role who can put those songs over. Jennifer Hudson may not be Aretha Franklin, but that’s only because nobody is. Hudson comes close enough." -- Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle 

► ':' "A powerful account of self-actualization spanning 20 formative years, [director] Liesl Tommy’s biopic is also an intimate gift of love, rich in complexity, spirituality, Black pride and feminist grit rooted ... in authentic experience. The ageless music, of course, is the galvanizing force, but it's the personal struggle behind it that makes the story so affecting. ...
It’s a credit both to the filmmakers and to Hudson, however, that the movie withstands ... wobbly passages and never loses our investment in the woman it so clearly reveres — a character drawn as both larger-than-life and fragile. ...
Hudson's vocals are electrifying. ... "Respect" gives the Queen of Soul the regal treatment she deserves." -- David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

► 'The music soars:' "The music soars, while the drama often bores. ... This movie disrespectfully chopped up and/or tossed aside aspects of Aretha's life, in service of a warped narrative that Aretha never experienced racism, and the only people who ever hurt her were Black men. ... It's as if this movie was made by people who want to forget the racism experienced by Aretha Franklin and other black people in America" -- Carla Hay, Culture Mix

► 'A must-see:' "What truly shines is the bond of faith, family, and music that the ensemble highlights that feels inarguably Black and soulful. This film is sure to keep critics talking, viewers entertained and potentially make Hudson an Oscar contender. ... [Franklin's] legacy [is] further enriched with this amazing film. ... A must-see of the summer." -- Joshua Mackey, Geeks of Color (9 out of 10)

 ':' "The film’s script is peppered with hammy lines that would seem more comfortable embroidered on a pillow, rather than spoken aloud. ... So much of 'Respect' is about Aretha wanting more — and so desiring to work for it — and it's disheartening that this well-meaning exploration of her legacy seems doomed to inspire that same hunger in its audience." -- Kate Erebland, IndieWire (Grade C)

► 'Rote retread:' "Jennifer Hudson tries her best with a disappointingly rote retread through cliches of a well-worn genre. ... It would be more expedient for Hudson to simply record a covers album and be done with it, [but] there’s more money to be made and glory to be gained this way. " -- Charles Bramesco, The Guardian [U.K.], 2 of 5 stars

' Casting too wide a net:' "There’s a liveliness and bounce to [recording session] scenes that's unfortunately sorely lacking from much of the rest of the film. For all of its thoughtfulness and attempts at nuance, 'Respect' never quite shakes that it's casting too wide a net." -- Keith Watson, Slant Magazine (2.5 of 4 stars)

Unrealistic conversations: "Realism is not the filmmakers' artistic priority. There's a notable theatricality to most of the movie's elements, beginning with a script that takes us from Big Moment to Big Moment. ... Every conversation is significant, the lines serving as announcements or aphorisms." -- Elizabeth Weitzman, The Wrap

'Just peters out:' "Hudson is the movie, the whole movie, and sings herself into an Oscar nomination, other awards, and maybe the final big gold statue next spring. Her singing and acting are beyond compare, so is her utter devotion to getting Aretha right. ... But 'Respect' is a wonky movie. ...
"Because 'Respect' has no overriding concept of where it's going, the movie just peters out. ... Aretha's music and her own story will well outlive the movie." -- Roger Friedman, Showbiz411

'No energy:' "'Respect' is full of information about Aretha Franklin, but despite the music there's just no energy." -- Fred Topel, Showbiz Cheat Sheet

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