You better THINK about seeing Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul.
The nickname Queen of Soul belongs to Aretha Franklin, whose hit songs, including but not limited to “Respect” and “Think,” have won music fans for decades. Then word got out that pancreatic cancer killed her in 2018, and left us in state of decay. But through all the turmoils of her life, from having babies at the age of 12 and 14 to alcoholism, she still managed to overcome it all, and we still support her for what she has accomplished.
Jennifer Hudson was the Queen of Soul’s first choice to portray her in the biography “Respect,” and I must say: she is exceptional. From the moment she performed in her father’s church to her performing her classic hits on stage to singing her heart out at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, I was uplifted by how Hudson resurrects her. And in spite of its dull center, it manages to give the real-life singer her narrative from the 50s to the 70s.
In this biography, directed by Broadway’s Liesl Tommy (the first woman of color to win a Tony Award for Best Director of “Eclipsed”), we see Aretha losing her mother (Audra McDonald), working with her Baptist minister father C.L. (Forrest Whitaker), escaping from the abuse of her first husband and manager Ted White (Marlon Wayans), wanting to make hit songs, and resorting to alcoholism to hide her pain.
The movie also reminds us of the question we have of whether or not she had a baby with Sam Cooke (played here by Kelvin Hair), and doesn’t accuse her father of giving her baby No. 2. A haunting shot, however, is when we see the pregnant 12-year-old Aretha (Skye Dakota Turner) in the kitchen.
The supporting cast also includes Titus Burgess as the King of Gospel, who makes little Aretha pinky promise not to let her troubles become between her and her music; Tate Donovan as John Hammond, the controlling head of Columbia Records; Marc Maron as the wise guy music producer Jerry Wexler; and Mary J. Blige as Dinah Washington, who warns Aretha not to try to exceed the best singers.
The center of “Respect” lags when we just see the concerts and a few conflicts that aren’t as gripping as they should have been presented, but the rest explodes with real emotions. Hudson is electrifying when she sings, yells, and speaks the singer’s mind; Whitaker is well-picked as the father with his age and dialogue; Wayans, Maron, and Burgess are all able to break away from their comedy routines to portray vivid characters; and both McDonald and Blige have their values when they whip Aretha into shape.
In a recent track record of music biographies, Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury as the only good thing about “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Taron Egerton did his own covers for Elton John’s classics in “Rocketman,” Renee Zellweger won the Oscar for her performance as Judy Garland in “Judy,” Tilda Cobham-Hervey only spoke for Helen Reddy in “I Am Woman,” and Andra Day was dazzling as Billie Holiday in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” As long as celebrities don’t get the kind of pig-headed mannerisms “Bohemian Rhapsody” provided, they’re able to resurrect singers with passion and commitment. “Respect” is not a classic, but Jennifer Hudson is the one who carries the movie, and she gets the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. she deserves.