How Much and in What Ways Does ‘Respect’ Respect Aretha Franklin? Let’s Find Out!

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Respect (CREDIT: Quantrell D. Colbert/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Marc Maron, Audra McDonald, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Tate Donovan, Mary J. Blige, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Skye Dakota Turner

Director: Liesl Tommy

Running Time: 145 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Abusive Relationships and Racial Tension

Release Date: August 13, 2021 (Theaters)

Aretha Franklin biopic Respect keeps harping on the idea that the Queen of Soul didn’t start having hits until she focused on her own original efforts, and I kind of wish the movie had taken its own advice. Now, it obviously couldn’t be a completely thorough original. It is a biopic, after all. But Jennifer Hudson is talented enough to make me think that this movie isn’t really going to sing until she’s allowed to break free and offer her own unique interpretation. The most rousing moment of the whole film comes during the end credits when we get to see the real Aretha bring the house down at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors with a rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” (President Obama was having a GREAT time.) To be fair, Hudson and the makers of Respect are more interested in exploring the behind-the-scenes of Franklin’s story, but it is telling that they never quite achieve something as triumphant as the real deal.

The challenge of so many music biopics is combining idiosyncrasy with reverence. Those two impulses don’t really mix, and oftentimes biopic makers are much more interested in the latter than the former anyway. The title of Respect indicates that that’s very much the case here. That’s especially clear in one scene when Aretha attempts to perform a song by family friend Dinah Washington (an intensely regal Mary J. Blige) while Dinah is in attendance. It absolutely does not go so well, thanks to Dinah’s insistence that you don’t play the Queen in front of the Queen. That deference marks the entire movie. Within that boundary, Hudson is able to successfully explore Franklin’s trauma and resilience, but she doesn’t have room to leave her own inimitable signature.

I found the portrayals of the main men in Aretha’s life much more compelling, perhaps because their public personas are much less set in stone and thus the actors don’t have to feel beholden to icons. I’m talking Forest Whitaker as her iron-willed minister father C.L., Marlon Wayans as her controlling and abusive manager-slash-husband Ted White, and Marc Maron as Jerry Wexler, the producer who’s actually committed to letting Aretha be Aretha. Respect gives us a full picture of all the big, often controlling personalities in Aretha’s life, and so it works in painting that picture and in that way it fulfills the promise of its title. If you’re in the mood for that sort of contextualization, you might be satisfied, but don’t expect the house to be brought down the way that Aretha so often did.

Respect is Recommended If You Like: Behind the Music, Deferential covers

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Chains of Fools

This Is a Movie Review: Transgender Rights and Family Drama Fuel the Ho-Hum ‘3 Generations’

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon, Tate Donovan

Director: Gaby Dellal

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Facts of Life

Release Date: May 5, 2017 (Limited)

It is great when the stories of minority and discriminated groups are portrayed on the big screen, as they are granted greater visibility via the transportive power of cinema. But it is not so great when those stories are boring, because then the experience is less transportive. Teenage Ray (Elle Fanning) is a transgender male hoping to quickly start his gender reassignment treatment, and the reason this film is entitled “3 Generations” as opposed to something like “Ray’s Story” is because it is really about his relationship with his single mother Maggie (Naomi Watts) and grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon), whom he lives with together inManhattan. These are three talented ladies, and none of them phone it in, but ultimately 3 Generations feels like little more than spending a couple of hours with a family other than your own.

Teenage transgender transition stories offer the reliable dramatic hook of attempting to secure parental permission. Ray’s decision must be approved by both his mother and long-absentee father Craig (Tate Donovan). And therein lies the rub, as Maggie and Craig are not exactly on good terms, to put it mildly. It is enough to make you scream. Ray certainly does. Donovan is a captivating screen presence, and he has the necessary anti-chemistry with Watts, but again this mostly boils down to: families of transgender people can be just as dysfunctional as everyone else’s.

A constant source of tension for Ray is his grandmother’s difficulty accepting his identity. Dolly is far from conservative. She is a lesbian, but just because your sexuality is not mainstream does not mean you cannot also be closed-minded. There is an edge to Ray and Dolly’s interactions that is unavoidable, but also fascinating. A version of 3 Generations pared down to grandmother/grandson buddy comedy could be a winning formula. The obligations of familial love can be in a constant battle with the plague of misunderstanding/ I think that is the valiant thesis of this film, but it struggles to put its own spin on that age-old conundrum.

3 Generations is Recommended If You Like: The Kids Are All Right, Being an Elle Fanning Completist

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Fire Escapes