Respect is a biopic about Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul”. Starring Jennifer Hudson, and featuring a number of her recognisable hit songs, Respect is an emotional and moving film, but a film that could have been better.

I am probably not the best person to be reviewing this movie – sure I love the popular songs that everyone knows, but after watching this I realised that I really knew nothing about Aretha’s life story.

It definitely is an interesting story. Aretha was born to privilege as a child of a ‘celebrity’ Baptist minister, who socialised with the ‘who’s who’ of Jazz, Soul and Gospel artists in the 40’s and 50’s. Her parents were separated, and her mother passed away when she was only 10.

Much of the movie either hints at a history of childhood abuse or glosses over it. Although the movie describes that she became pregnant with her first child at age 12 (named after her father), the details and emotions are skipped over. According to other sources, throughout her life Aretha gave various accounts of the parentage of this child as either a school friend or a 23 year old friend of her father’s. Adding to the rumours at the time was conclusions reached (although not mentioned in the film) based on the fact that her father had impregnated a 12 year old member of his congregation when Aretha was 6.

Her father is shown to be controlling and emotionally abusive, which she escapes by getting married to a man who is also controlling, emotionally and physically abusive.

The contrast is painted throughout the film of Aretha’s tale of privilege (having access to celebrity connections, incredible musical talent, wealth, musical training and opportunities) against an ongoing cycle of abuse, tragedy, pain and despair.

The movie plotting seemed inconsistent and seemed to be just a ‘highlights’ reel of Aretha’s life (or more accurately ‘lowlights’). Jennifer Hudson’s acting at times seemed to show that she was out of her depth in this role (or maybe the perpetual state of fear I could feel emanating from her was a conscious choice). While her voice was beautiful – it doesn’t sound at all like Aretha Franklin, and it felt like listening to a cover singer. She did however do a very good ‘impression’ of Aretha’s speaking voice and her mannerisms.

The end credits (showing the actual Aretha in all her glorious-ness) left me feeling unfulfilled. Don’t show me what I could have had all along! In my opinion, this movie could have been improved with using recordings of Aretha’s actual singing voice with someone lip-synching.

So yes, I did enjoy the movie, it moved me, and made me want to find out more about a singer I already had ‘respect’ for. But, I really wish it was better.

Respect is in cinemas across Australia from August 19.

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