by Alana Matthew
Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, is an individual that is hard to impersonate. Her voice, her talent, and her star power cannot be matched, but our star Jennifer Hudson came damn close. There’s a reason Ms. Franklin wanted her to be the one to honor her life, and it’s quite apparent on the big screen.
There are three big components, give or take, that make a movie great. The actors, the plot/story progression, and the music. The music in this film played a big part of what made this movie a must see, so we’ll start there.
*These are major spoiler alerts, so if you want to see the movie, I suggest doing so before reading.*
The music gave everything that needed to be given. It had the old-school southern Baptist feel that’s good for the heart. We all know J.Hud can belt, but gospel is a genre where it is ever so appropriate and in most cases widely celebrated. The movie perfectly captured the influence that gospel music has had on the music industry and on its budding artists. We often find Franklin, sometimes affectionately known as ReRe, turning back to and pulling from her gospel roots. A notable addition to the music section, the crew was able to perfectly capture J.Hud’s voice and have it translated on the big screen. This is often a daunting task, especially with a big voice like hers but it was done correctly. Personally, I would’ve liked to hear some of Aretha’s older and unknown hits. The movie revealed she made more than 5 albums before “Respect” and whether or not they were a “hit” the audience should’ve gotten more of a glimpse. That would’ve made the revealing of Respect all the more powerful, but instead it left me wanting more. All in all, I give this category an 8.5/10.
On to the plot and story progression. The movie starts off with Aretha as a young child. It shows her in the church and with her siblings, grandmother, and father where she seems to reside full time. But, it also gives us a glimpse into her relationship with her mother, who divorced her father and lives elsewhere, and reveals it as calming and therapeutic for young ReRe.
It also shows the unfortunate sexual assault she experienced at a young age that she consequently becomes pregnant from. The reason why this is a notable addition is because it was placed in the story gracefully. There’s nothing entertaining about Black trauma whatsoever, and the director understood the assignment. The sexual assault is never shown on the screen, but it is strongly implied enough to be understood by the audience.
Another notable addition to the story progression is the way we see Aretha go from a young child to a young adult singing in the church. Not only does this symbolize her longevity in the church, but also the grip it has on her that she ultimately has to shake away. All in all, I give this category an 10/10.
Last but never least, the actors of this movie made it what it was! Jennifer Hudson, Marlon Wayans, Forest Whitaker, and Titus Beeguess made this movie the success it was. Shockingly, Jennifer Hudson was able to convincingly portray the more hurtful and impactful scenes. We know she can act – Effie from Dreamgirls was iconic, but shifting into a role that had bouts of narcissism and alcoholism was territory we haven’t seen her in. And she did the thing!
Similarly with Maron Wayans, we’re used to seeing him playing roles in comical films, like White Chicks, for example. The depth he showed in this movie, however, was impressive. His abusive, jealous and destructive character will make you want to hate him!
Forest Whitaker is famous for playing powerful roles, so his casting as Aretha’s father was on point. I’ve recently seen him in the Godfather of Harlem (great show, I recommend it too) and pulls from the same quiet gangster to portray a Reverend in a mega church. It’s a seemingly unlikely pairing but it worked very well.
As rguably one of my favorite characters in the movie, James Cleveland, Titus Burgess ate DOWN! As seen in the new animated series Central Park (highly recommended) and on the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, he’s known for his strong vocals and personality. What I loved about his character was that he showed versatility. Most of the shows he’s been in have made his character be this loud, proud and hilarious character, but James Cleveland was the opposite and he killed anyway. All in all, this category gets a 10/10 as well.
Moral of the story: go see this movie. The final score is a 28.5/30, a massive success and well made movie. Of course, small tweaks here and there could’ve made it better, but collectively, it’s a movie well worth watching.
P.S – If you say J.Hud sings too loud, you’re anti-Black.