Use your own bathroom next time.
Anybody with half-a-brain knows who James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) is. He’s one of the most known figures in all of music and his legacy continues to live on today. However, there’s more to all of the dance moves, the funky jams, and high-speed car-chases that we all hear about when his name comes up in a conversation; see, he too, like everyone else, was a young boy who had dreams of making a difference in this world, that all stemmed from the fact that his mom (Viola Davis) left him at an early age. Left with not much else to do from there, James decided to start living in a local whorehouse, where he would do whatever was necessary for a little boy of his age to be doing in order to have a place to sleep, and food to eat. Then, when he was a teenager, he got arrested and sent to jail for stealing a suit. While in prison, he meets a guy by the name of Bobby (Nelsan Ellis) who sees an actual talent in him and wants to be around it, and see what they can do with it. Eventually, he gets James out of prison and they start a musical-group that goes through many different incarnations, with James Brown being the only constant member.
Because in James Brown’s world, all you need is James Brown.
Musical biopics can usually go absolutely one way, or they can go another way. One way is that they can be total conventional pieces of junk that do more harm to the subject than any slanderous article may have ever done; or, they can show us that the subjects we’re watching here truly are talented, yet troubled individuals indeed. However, sometimes, that just ends up playing out like a VH1 Behind the Music special, but with a bigger-budget and stars. So yeah, musical biopics, for the most part, regardless of how interesting the person/persons may be, aren’t always well-done.
“Alright whitey. Off the stage and let me show you to shake and jive them hips like you “allegedly” know how to do.”
But is there ever enough space in this world for there to be a biopic that’s just considered “okay”? Well, maybe. And if there is, I think that Get On Up would be located somewhere in there; which isn’t necessarily to say that it’s a bad biopic that does harm to James Brown and the type of man who he was, it more or less shows his both his faults, and his positives. Most of it lingers on the later, than the former, but hey, this is a biopic about James Brown! It can’t constantly hate on him, or else there’d be no inspiration for a movie to begin with.
And director Tate Taylor definitely seems to be inspired by the life of James Brown, if only maybe more so by his professional life, than his personal one, but there’s still interest all around and it shows throughout a good portion of this movie. Most who know James Brown as “that guy who could dance real good and say that he feels good”, will be surprised to know that there was a little more to his life than just some fine moves both on, as well as on the stage. Taylor uses a non-linear narrative to show us various moments in Brown’s life that either impacted him, or those around him, which, for most movies it would utterly confuse the hell out of anyone watching, but here, somehow doesn’t.
That’s mostly because James Brown himself went through many phases/incarnations throughout his whole storied-career and it’s easy for us to identify what was happening to him when, where, and just exactly who he was in good graces with at which time. Because, James Brown being James Brown, who he was actually friends with to begin with, made a whole hell of a lot of a difference. He wasn’t a very likable guy and didn’t always do the right things, at the right time, with/to the right people, but he at least always put on an exciting show and never gave the crowd something that they didn’t want to see him do.
Which is to say that playing such an high-wired, electric character, in a biopic about him and his life no less, would be a hard task for any actor to accomplish – let alone an actor who literally just had his first, leading-role of his career playing another famous figure in American-culture – but somehow, relative-newcomer Chadwick Boseman absolutely gets the job done perfectly. Right when we see Boseman on-screen, piled on with pounds of make-up to make it look like he’s the older-version of James Brown, it looks goofy, so of course, it’s a bit hard to believe. But, as soon as we hear Boseman talk, that all changes.
Not only does Boseman become James Brown, but has us forget that it’s a standard, conventional biopic about somebody’s life we already know plenty about. There’s a certain unpredictability to where he’ll go with this performance, which, in and of itself, becomes more than just an “impersonation”; he channels what it’s like to be such a lively performer almost non-stop. He hardly ever slows down, nor does he ever want to; James Brown, as I’d like to imagine him as being in the real world, was the sort of guy who always wanted to have a ball, while also be exactly who he was, without ever seeming like a joke in anybody’s eyes. He’s got the dance moves, the swagger he carried wherever he went, and even that raspy voice of his. Even if he doesn’t actually sing the songs themselves, there’s still something impressive and exciting to watch about him just moving all over the stage as if he is Brown, calculating his every move, but without calculating too much to where it doesn’t seem as if it was all coming off the top of his head.
A Radiohead concert, this is not.
Because James Brown, was never a fella you could pin-point from point A, to point B.
Once again though, like I mentioned before, that’s not to say that this movie wholly glamorizes the life of James Brown; it sort of just lays his story out there for us to take in, piece by piece. Sure, you could say that it likes more about his story, than it doesn’t, but at least there’s something about this figure that’s imperfect, and not constantly making him out to be some sort of savior. Because even though some people out there in the world probably view him as just that, it’s not true; James Brown, like all of us, was a human being. He had feelings, wants, needs, and pleasures that he sometimes let get a little too into his head, but he at least stuck to who he was and went out there, night after night, performance after performance, and gave the crowd exactly what they wanted: A fun show that they would remember till the end of their days.
Now, that said about the actual person himself, does that make this movie memorable?
Well, not really.
Cause like I was saying earlier about Taylor’s direction, although he does jump around rather sporadically through Brown’s life, for a whole two-and-a-half-hours, it’s not always interesting. Some bits and pieces of his story are left out (mostly his drug-use), and even the parts that are hinted at, still feel forced into so that Taylor didn’t have to worry about not portraying the man as a whole person; warts and all. And although this isn’t a kind of raw biopic, you still get a sense that some of this guy was bad, whereas most of him wasn’t. It’s weird how they do this, but I guess Taylor really did respect James Brown for all that he has given to the world.
Not just the music world, mind you, but the whole world in general.
Keep up the funk, people.
Consensus: Without Chadwick Boseman stealing the screen every second he gets, Get On Up would be another moderate, yet ultimately forgettable biopic about one of the world’s most famous musicians of all time, but has enough excitement and fun to go along with the more dramatic-moments to make it all gel out well enough to be forgiven.
7.5 / 10 = Rental!!
Dan Aykroyd wishes he had a poof as good as that.
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images