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“Respect” tops charts with soul, civil championing

Ryan+Faulkner+reviews+director+Liesl+Tommys+first+film+which+details+the+life+of+Aretha+Franklin+on+her+journey+to+success+as+a+singer.%26%23160%3B
via imdb.com

Ryan Faulkner reviews director Liesl Tommy’s first film which details the life of Aretha Franklin on her journey to success as a singer. 

Though the Queen of Soul became a household name half a century ago, new exposure in the movie industry is sure to help the legend command even more respect with today’s generation.
Directed by Liesl Tommy in her feature directorial debut, “Respect” chronicles the life and career of 18-time Grammy winner Aretha Franklin. Starting with her childhood, the film does an excellent job of blending Franklin’s signature passions — soul music and civil rights activism — with advanced cinematography styles.
Young breakout star Skye Dakota Turner opens the film as a young Franklin, captivating audiences while stumping them as to how a child could possibly be so musically gifted — much like Franklin herself did in her earliest days performing at her father’s church. Other characters, such as Maron Wayans’s Ted White and Mary J. Blige’s Dinah Washington, were also played extremely well, balancing drama with subtle humor throughout.
The real standout, however, came in the form of Jennifer Hudson starring as Franklin. The Queen of Soul, who was involved with the film’s development before her death in 2018, went as far as claiming on CBS Sunday Morning that Hudson would win an Oscar for her portrayal of the legendary singer. The lead certainly didn’t disappoint in that aspect. In a movie filled with so many stars, Hudson shines especially bright.
The film’s soundtrack, a brilliant mix of choral church hymns and Franklin’s greatest hits, suits Hudson’s voice so well that the audience is likely to forget they are not listening to Franklin’s original belts and runs. Paired with background vocals by a talented ensemble including Sayson Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore and Audra McDonald, the musical lineup doesn’t miss a beat.
In perhaps the film’s most audacious directorial strategy, a large focus on human rights activism ends up paying off greatly. Because Franklin has such deep ties with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the inclusion of the civil activist in the film, played by Gilbert Glen Brown, presents an opportunity to send a greater message. Tommy took this chance and ran with it, likely citing recent legal rights movements as the catalyst.
For all the good showcased in the film, it is not without its flaws. The 145 minute runtime feels excessive, with some of the slower moments dragging on. However, because the feature covers such a large span of Franklin’s life, many details are overlooked. All four of Franklin’s children just appear at various times throughout the movie, without any of their fathers’ identities being confirmed. Other characters, like Albert Jones’s Ken Cunningham, fade into the background and are never given the opportunity to shine. Perhaps focusing on a more specific era within Franklin’s life would have solved this problem.
Throughout the project’s runtime, it is hard to not draw parallels between “Respect” and 2019’s “Rocketman,” directed by Dexter Fletcher. Both Franklin and the “Rocketman” biopic singer Elton John faced adversity at a young age due to their places within a minority group, then proved the world wrong by using their musical abilities to find success. Along the way, the two battled abusive managers-turned-spouses, developed alcoholism and experienced falling-outs with their families. Though nothing can be done about the two stars’ similar upbringings, taking a different narrative approach would have helped “Respect” stand out within the musical biopic genre.
Overall, “Respect” is a dramatic yet compelling story, successfully giving tribute to the late Franklin. Though aspects of the plot and character development leave something to be desired, the cast and soundtrack make up for it. As viewers exit the movie theater, they are sure to discover newfound respect for Franklin and an appreciation for her journey to the top.
Ryan Faulkner is a journalism junior and assistant sports editor for The Battalion.

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