Directed by Liesl Tommy
Starring Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans & Tituss Burgess
Respect to first time feature film director Liesl Tommy! A former stage director with only eight episodes of seven different television series under her belt, she’s a biopic masterpiece for the ages with Respect, a 2021 film about the life and career of singer Aretha Franklin.
Aretha is well crafted but not too flashy. There are some “news real” scenes that are meant to give the film a documentary feel, but they aren’t needed. All that’s needed is Jennifer Hudson’s gorgeous voice alongside pivotal historical moments peppered in with sincerity. The film does this well. It also gave this non-super-fan some interesting details about the Queen of Soul and her struggle to remain relevant for decades.
Could this film have succeeded without Hudson’s amazing performance? Probably not. Few actresses excel as both a thespian and a vocalist. As a bonus, Hudson learned to play the piano as well.
The supporting cast is equally as impressive. From Forrest Whitaker as Aretha’s controlling father to the insidious portrayal of Ted White, a man who doesn’t give Aretha the RESPECT she deserve, by comedian Marlon Wayans, Respect features a powerful ensemble at work. Fortunately for the viewer but unfortunately for Wayans, Tituss Burgess steals most of his scenes as James Cleveland, a figure that is in and out of Mrs Franklin’s life as a rare positive force a role he was born to play.
Surprisingly, the film ends much too soon at 2 hours and 25 minutes but thankfully it’s immediately followed by an extended credit sequence with the queen herself, (at 76), killing gout live and bringing a tear to Obama’s eye.
If other singer biopics Ray (2004) and Walk the Line (2005) are A’s this, the first feature film for Liesl Tommy, is a B+.