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Ray, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocket Man. Musical biopics are easy to criticize. Usually, it’s a matter of opinion. Should have gone deeper here; didn’t need to dwell on the subject’s weaknesses; left this out; that didn’t happen that way, yada yada. Someone even went so far as to say that such movies have become the tribute mediocrity pays to talent. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that there ain’t nobody gonna call Jennifer Hudson mediocre. I really can’t think of another working actor who would even attempt to do what she has done here so brilliantly.

This is of course the story of Aretha Franklin, focusing on the Queen of Soul from age eight, a child singing prodigy in her preacher father’s (Forrest Whittaker) gospel choir, to 29, when she came full circle and dropped her famed gospel album. It’s the feature film debut of TV and stage director Liesl Tommy, who achieves her goal of capturing her subject’s tenacity and courage in the face of adversity, which was usually domineering men. 

It’s staggeringly conventional and sanitized for the PG rating, but none of that matters in the face of Hudson’s steamroller performance. The woman, if you remember, took home an Oscar for Dreamgirls and almost made Cats watchable with her stirring rendition of “Memories.” Almost. She not only nails Aretha’s voice, but channels her soul as well during the drama bits.

I liked that it took the time to let some of the songs play to the finish, even at the risk of being viewed as a musical, and the scenes depicting her working with her musicians to repeatedly tweak a song into what we know it as today reminded me of the excellent Love & Mercy.

Terrific supporting casts includes Marlon Wayans, Mary J. Bligh, Audra MacDonald and Marc Maron. (145 min)