James Brown, a musical legend whose funk and soul spread from city to city over decades. With movies looking for anything to make a story about, these days, it was only a matter of time before the Godfather of Soul was chosen. Yet despite his musical influence, could the directors make a film that would do justice to him, or like other tributes fall short and are nothing more than a bore. Going in for my third movie this weekend, I’m here to share my thoughts about Get On Up, titled after one of my favorite songs.
After seeing Four Seasons, I worried that this movie would be another drawn out drama with only tidbits of music here and there. Yet the directing team decided to actually bring the music to the front and give the audience the music they knew and loved. Get On Up plays a plethora of songs from toe tapping Get On Up to the soulful Please, each timed in the story to mimic the emotions at hand. While some of the songs are only segments, the movie gives you enough of a show to satisfy the funk within you. The numbers are well designed, with Chadwick Boseman bringing some impressively choreographed moves, including the famous split that will have guys cringing. One feels like they are in a constant, at home with the crowd as the cameras circle around the bandstand. What’s also nice is that the songs are spread throughout the movie, and one doesn’t have to wait to long before another song is blasting through the speakers. However, this also leads to a little problem, as so many songs leads to a messy story that is fractured, sporadic, and sometimes confusing to follow.
This leads me to the next part, the story. Like many movies about musical icons the story is predictable mess, again showing traumatic backstories and showing their rise to fame. However, Get On Up diverges from the typical linear presentation and decides to jump around Brown’s life. In the beginning, it is confusing to follow, because the order doesn’t make sense, nor is it easy to find the relevancy at the time. As the movie continues, you get an idea of what the director is trying to do, using the scenes as an illustration of his thoughts at the time, the primal drive to his actions. It’s cool, but again confusing as you try to pick up what is going on at the times. Some of the flashbacks are also awkwardly timed and sometimes seem to are left untied as the movie continues. At times I asked, “What was the point of that scene?” only to get an answer an hour down the line. It’s diverse yes, but the approach needs to be ironed out a little more for this reviewer to get the most out of it. Unfortunately, this movie’s plot is still similar to all band stories, in the fact that there is an inevitable rise and fall that we will see them go through.
Despite the order of the scenes though, Get On Up has some impressive production behind the movie. As I already mentioned, the music scenes are the most entertaining of the bunch, but the drama surrounding it is well designed. Plenty of my fellow audience members commented on how well they captured the decade, designing the various cast in the costumes of the era. Backstage hassles, luxurious hotels, and studios were all crafted into smoke filled wonders, and you feel drawn in to Brown’s life. What was also nice to see was the lack of using a grey filter, a very popular filter at the moment, to make the already dismal world even more depressing. Instead, the world is colorful and vibrant, much like the music.
Finally the acting. Boseman steals the show, managing to bring a lot of energy and fun into the enigmatic Brown. His raspy voice sounds much like the voice in the singing, though it is not an exact match, I think he did nice on the vocals and delivery. He is funny, and seems to be a natural at playing the self-involved performer, because he didn’t seem to try too hard. Boseman captures the emotional spectrum of Brown brilliantly in this movie and next to the music, is the biggest highlight of the film. To counter the selfishness of Brown is his friend Bobby Byrd played by Nelsan Ellis who also does a great job. Although his character takes a backseat through most of the film, and only speaks at key points, Ellis does a lot with his limited lines. And just like Boseman, Ellis can bust a move, though his pipes are drowned out in the numbers. As for the rest of the cast, the iconic Dan Aykroyd plays the same arrogant business man he always does, though with a bit of a softer side when it comes to James. Viola Davis brings the same passion to her role, though like Ellis is limited to the amount of time on screen. Octavia Spencer brings her sass back to scene and has some guiding insight, but does take a back seat to Boseman as well.
Overall Get On Up is a visit to the past of powerful music. Fans will travel back in time with Brown’s hits, and the beat will have you tapping your toes. Yet the predictable drama, the dark and depressing mood, and the unique presentation had me feeling the movie lasted a little too long, especially at the slow parts. Recommended audience members are big James Brown fans, or those looking to take older audience members to a movie. Otherwise, skip this film and wait for it to come to your home entertainment set up. My scores for this flick are:
Movie Overall: 6