GET ON UP.

Get on Up.red jacket

UK National release: November 21stRating:(12A)Run time: 139 mins

Director:Tate Taylor Writer(s): Jez Butterworth,
John-Henry Butterworth Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Keith Robinson, Tika Sumpter and Octavia Spencer.

The James Brown Story. It’s an impressive performance from Chadwick Boseman, but it’s almost two and half hours of superficially cut and pasted fluff.

The ‘Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness’, ‘Soul Brother’, ‘Number One’ – ‘The Godfather of Funk’: sidenote man with the great hair, fearless stage presence, crazy moves and incomparable style. All of this is what we already know and all of the above was apparent largely due to Boseman’s thoroughly entertaining and on the nose imitation – with an ability to empathise with Brown’s back story whilst transitioning into the ego-maniac showman that he was with consistent self-assurance. What isn’t quite as smooth is the story directed by Tate Taylor (The Help).

young james

A combination of vignettes of a troubled childhood; a stint in juvenile prison; finding his voice whilst in The Famous Flames and subsequently being signed as a solo artist to become one of the greatest music makers in history. It’s all woven together in a choppy fashion that only serves to leave the audience with an introductory or surface knowledge of Brown and his rise to fame.the band

That said it’s understandable, considering how difficult it must be to squeeze the momentous events of one very unique man’s life into two hours. What the filmmakers did manage to do was bring some of the best and well-known songs and performances from Brown’s infamous musical repertoire on screen.on stage

If only another frustrating reminder of how exceptional black talent is so rarely championed on-screen unless in a biopic, slave-related or civil-rights films (this is Boseman’s second Biopic – the first was as U.S baseball player, Jackie Robinson, in 42)  Get on Up is less of an exploration of Brown’s roots, troubled life and more of a testament to his unwavering self-belief, perseverance and undeniable talent. That’s fine, for the duration of the film it’s a joy to watch but one can’t help be unsatisfied that glimpses of Brown’s tragic childhood; enabling of domestic abuse; drug abuse; extramarital affairs and monetary troubles, are mostly played out as minor and acceptable obstacles (if played out at all!) that helped to create the revered artist history would only have us believe only existed.  Ray and Ike and Tina, though without their flawsare better examples because they dared to show the darker sides of their subjects, philandering, drug abuse and domestic violence, respectively and centrally. 

hug

Beautifully shot and constructed, the movie is carried by energetic musical performances. The dialogue is great, Boseman’s grasp of Brown’s soul brother charm paired with wonderfully eccentric costumes gives and some scenes across from his right hand man Bobby Byrd – a nuanced and empathetic delivery from Nelsan Ellis – carries most of the authenticity in this flighty film.

viola

Viola Davis, Lenny James  and Octavia Spencer (dream castings as Brown’s volatile parents and Aunt) are woefully underused but powerful when they’re on-screen. Some scenes are so unimaginable, that they must be true many of which are from the perspective of a  young Brown (played emotively by Jamarion and Jordan Scott). However these scenes are flashbacks and are never explored with convincing aplomb.

dan and chad

It’s the same surface revelations and rose-tinted dalliance that Taylor delivered in The Help, only Get On Up is based on real life, the people associated with Brown’s life are all real – Taylor had the material there to create a truly 3-Dimensional depiction away from the man on the stage. In Get on Up the most the audience can learn is that James Brown was a great artist, who ruffled a few feathers, but the world loved him for it.

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