Chadwick Boseman, Nelson Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Jill Scott, Craig Robinson and Octavia Spencer in a film directed by Tate Taylor.
Based on the life story of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, the film gives a fearless look inside the music, moves and moods of the man behind the legend–from his impoverished childhood to his evolution into one of the most influential figures of the 20th century.
I’ll say this about “Get On Up”: it’s ambitious.
A PG-13 film, produced by Brian Grazer and directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”), about the life James Brown was probably never going to be groundbreaking, but the creative minds behind this probably did all they could with what was surely a studio-approved film.
What the film lacks in depth and true insight of the problems and destructive behavior of James Brown, it makes up for in gorgeous cinematography, inventive editing and show-stopping performances.
As a set piece for Chadwick Boseman to dance, gyrate and flamboyantly embrace the essence of Brown, the film is truly a sight. After that, there isn’t much left.
“Get On Up” follows the life of James Brown, from being a small boy in deep Georgia abused by his father and abandoned by his mother, to becoming the biggest artist in America. James Brown has one of the most compelling background stories and careers that I can think of, and it would be nice if it one day gets the film that it deserves.
As it stands, “Get On Up” is only worth it for the fun that is conveyed. Boseman is enigmatic and animated as Brown and even though you know he’s not performing, you get sucked into the musical interludes anyhow.
But the movie has a very bad habit of skirting around things that may color Brown too negatively. There’s a moment of domestic abuse that happens and is then quickly forgotten; there’s also a scene involving drug use that is also quickly forgotten. All of this serves to undermine the complexity and problematic nature of James Brown.
What does stay in the film is Brown’s disputes with his band members. Brown is painted as a dictator and his band is more than justified to react the way they do. It’s all compelling to see unfold, especially Brown and his relationship with his band leader and best friend Bobby Byrd.
Nelson Ellis as Bobby Byrd is sympathetic and a great underdog for this story. James’s and Bobby’s interactions keep this film together even as it gets too wrapped up in following biopic logic 101.
A movie strictly based on their relationship would probably be even more interesting. But again, that would require this to be a braver film than it is.
Get On Up opens today in select theaters.