Get On Up Movie Review: “I got soul and I’m super bad”
James Brown is the king of funk music, he’s the God Father of soul, no one will ever be able to top James Brown as the curator of many music genres. I fell in love with James Brown the way most people do, one song at a time. I think for me it was “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” which was in a scene of Mrs. Doubtfire. As I got older my experience with James Brown grew from movie soundtracks to collected albums of his greatest hits. Now with the film Get On Up I can only hope a younger generation is inspired and enticed by James Brown’s music.
Before I keep twitterpating all over the place about the music lets talk about the movie. The film stars Chadwick Boseman (42), Nelsan Ellis (True Blood), Viola Davis (The Help) and Octavia Spencer (The Help); Chadwick Boseman’s James Brown is more on point than I’ve ever seen. The mannerisms, the dance moves, the swagger (in the original definition), all of it. Now those of you who recall Boseman has played another famous African American legend Jackie Robinson. My largest concern as a critic when it comes to Boseman is for him to be pigeon holed and classified as only the “re-creationalist of Hollywood.” I would hate to see Boseman become a household name associated with type-casting, because the only roles he’s getting are affiliated with a legendary African American athlete or musician, and not because he is a talented and skilled actor that brings a lot of raw emotion whenever necessary.
The film itself is not set in a particular sequence to it’s own detriment. I had hoped that this wouldn’t be a regular bio-pic and it isn’t, but it’s also told so strangely out of a normal sequence you may have a hard time keeping up. Normally we see the legendary character in the place they’ve come to in the pinnacle of their success then we travel back in time to see their troubled childhood and fast forward through to all the good moments until they come into trouble again. A lot of the big scenes in the film are the performances because that’s what James Brown should always be remembered as a performer, probably the best live performer ever.
The film ventures into many different directions, James Brown the businessman, James Brown the little boy left behind by his mother, James Brown the genius musician, James Brown the peacekeeper, James Brown the legend even James Brown the jailbird. Chadwick Boseman embodies all of these versions of James flawlessly, and has an amazing supporting actor Nelsan Ellis with him throughout the film. Ellis plays Bobby Byrd (James Brown’s closest friend and music partner) if you listen to live recordings of James you’ll hear him asking Bobby different things throughout songs. Other supporting cast such as Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are also phenomenal but I feel their characters were underdeveloped and underutilized.
If I was to judge the film based off of how well these actors portrayed these characters or the unbridled passion they brought to the film I would have scored it much higher. However, I have to take the film as a whole; and as a whole, covering the 60 year career of James Brown may have been too hard of a task. The film itself is too long (runtime of 2 hours and 20 minutes), and the sequencing could use some help as it can easily be confused if things were before or after other events.
As a performance piece and as an homage to the man James Brown was, or as an insight to the God Father of Soul… it is perfect, but as a film there is a lot of potential to make it work/better.
If you are a fan of James Brown, I invite you to see the film to experience the man as he was in an outstanding portrayal. If you are a music lover you’d be surprised how much is owed to today’s music thanks to the contributions of James Brown, and you should buy a ticket too. However, be forewarned of the downfalls, the jumping sequences and length. If you remember one thing when you leave the theater you’ll remember this:
“James Brown had soul and he was super bad”