Filled with great Aretha Franklin music, the film’s tedious nature sadly produces the same effect on the audience.
Let’s begin by talking about performances rather than the film itself. In that regard, Skye Dakota Turner is remarkable as the 10-year-old Aretha. Taken from bed by her dominating minister father (Forest Whitaker in a one-dimensional role) to sing at his house parties, she recreates Aretha’s golden voice.
But as the adult Aretha, Jennifer Hudson who will be knocking on Oscar’s door the way she did when she won the Best Supporting Actress award for Dreamgirls (2006). Constantly subjected to male abuse before she became a teenager, the Queen of Soul’s songs were a product of her determination to respect herself.
And there you have the meaning of the movie’s title. One of the great songs in soul/rock-n-roll history, wait until you see Aretha and her two sisters write and then perform this masterpiece. The movie is worth watching for that moment alone.
But the problem with this movie begins with its length of 2 hours 25 minutes. Though Aretha died in 2018, the film ends with her recording the legendary gospel album in 1972. In between, Ms. Hudson performing hits like “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, and “I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You”, you basically watch a woman leading a joyless life.
Other cast members made marginal contributions that helped keep the movie from collapsing under its own weight. Marlon Wayans provides some energy in his role as Aretha’s first husband/manager, Ted White. Yet there was a reason why their marriage was destroyed.
And while the two most memorable women in Aretha’s life were her mother (Audra McDonald) and family friend Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige) it was the performance of two white song producers that led to her success. It began with her first recording in Alabama under the guidance of John Hammond (Tate Donovan) and evolved under the watchful eye of Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron).
Yet despite its shortcomings, Aretha’s music earns this film, directed by Liesl Tommy, some deserved Respect. And it must be remembered that she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 while singing at President Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
Aretha Franklin deserves to be remembered.