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Respect (12A)

Cast: Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Jennifer Hudson, Audra McDonald
Genre: Drama
Author(s): Tracey Scott Wilson
Director: Liesl Tommy
Release Date: 10/09/2021
Running Time: 145mins
Country: Can/US
Year: 2021

Baptist minister CL Franklin showcases the soaring vocals of third child Aretha to friends and family including singer Dinah Washington. He takes a deep personal interest in his daughter's contract with Columbia Records. None of her singles are hits and smooth-talking ladies' man Ted White persuades Aretha to let him manage her career inside and out of the bedroom. CL is apoplectic as his daughter begins her turbulent yet fruitful journey at Atlantic Records under Jerry Wexler.


LondonNet Film Review
Respect (12A)

When Jennifer Hudson made her feature film acting debut as Effie White in the 2006 musical Dreamgirls, the American Idol alumnus overshadowed Beyonce and deservedly won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress. She still has the voice of an angel in director Liesl Tommy’s overlong biopic of Aretha Franklin, covering a bewildering array of the queen of soul’s hits including Chain Of Fools, I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You), I Say A Little Prayer, Natural Woman, Think and the empowering title anthem. If Respect were simply a concert film to showcase Hudson’s mastery of her instrument, it would be a bona fide chart-topper…

Unfortunately, Tommy’s picture requires meaty verses to support the rousing choruses and Tracey Scott Wilson’s screenplay is more reverential than revelatory, following an achingly familiar narrative arc from abuse (sexual, domestic, alcohol) and manipulation to tear-stained emancipation. The script tends to Franklin’s psychological wounds purely at surface level and doesn’t spend enough time dissecting the scar tissue to manifest an unbreakable bond to the lead character. “Wait until your demons come back,” violent husband Ted White (Marlon Wayans) seethes during one altercation. “After living with you, I’m ready for them,” coolly retorts Aretha. So are we but Tommy’s film repeatedly keeps the darkness at bay.

From an early age, formidable Baptist minister CL Franklin (Forest Whitaker) showcases the soaring vocals of third child Aretha to friends and family including singer Dinah Washington (Mary J Blige), creating tension with his estranged wife Barbara (Audra McDonald). “Your daddy doesn’t own your voice. Nobody does… but God,” the mother tenderly reminds Aretha. Barbara dies of a heart attack and Aretha relies on sisters Carolyn (Hailey Kilgore) and Erma (Saycon Sengbloh) and her grandmother (Kimberly Scott) for emotional ballast.

As Aretha’s grief subsides, supplanted by devotion to her father’s flock at New Bethel Baptist Church, CL takes a deep personal interest in his daughter’s contract with Columbia Records. None of her singles are hits and smooth-talking ladies’ man Ted White (Wayans) persuades Aretha to let him manage her career inside and out of the bedroom. CL is apoplectic (“You are going to beg me to take you back, but I won’t!”) as his daughter begins her turbulent yet fruitful journey at Atlantic Records under Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron).

Galvanised by Hudson’s radiant performance, Respect wins what the title politely demands but unabashed adoration is harder to come by. Whitaker radiates righteous indignation but Wayans is an ill fit for a hot-headed brute, not that the script gives him a great deal to work with beyond a couple of fist-pounding outbursts. Musical sequences are orchestrated with aplomb including a 1968 Madison Square Gardens concert where Aretha preaches the title track to her congregation. “What you want, baby I got it,” she trills. Not quite.

– Sarah Lee


London Cinemas Showing Respect


From: Friday 21st January
To: Thursday 27th January

From: Friday 28th January
To: Thursday 3rd February

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UK and Irish Cinemas Showing Respect


From: Friday 28th January
To: Thursday 3rd February

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