Get On Up

Get On Up (2014)

dir. Tate Taylor

This messy and occasionally inventive biopic stars Chadwick Boseman as “the godfather of soul” James Brown.  The film has strong supporting performances by Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, and Dan Aykroyd.  Although it attempts to do something new in the genre, it mostly sticks to rote generic beats.

We begin in 1988.  James Brown is the owner of a store and he notices that one of his patrons has taken a dump in the store’s bathroom.  James Brown reacts by taking out his shotgun and asking those in the store, “Who had the nerve to take a s*** in James Brown’s bathroom?”  He refers to himself in the third person, overreacts, and wears a track suit while NOT exercising.  This is James Brown.

It begins in 1988 then cuts to 1950, a short performance, then cuts to 1930.  The narrative skips around time so quickly that’s it’s hard to get your bearings.  That shifts your focus to the style and quirks that make James Brown–not the psychological origins behind his actions.  It’s a refreshing break from convention that isn’t done often.  La Vie en Rose (2007) is the only other biopic I’ve seen do that.  As a result, James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) becomes your personal host.  The film has a few moments of 4th wall breaking, which create a more personal connection with the subject.  There is a scene where a younger James Brown imagines a band performing his music.  It’s scene that demonstrates the transformative power of art.  These moments really shine against the conventional dramatic scenes.

It waters down the more original elements and mixes them with biopic conventions.  The film grinds to a halt those longer Oscar-baiting dramatic scenes.  The clearest evidence of this is a scene where Viola Davis, as the mother who abandoned him, visits him backstage.  It’s a scene that raises the drama to eleven, and isn’t as effective as a quieter version you see earlier in the film.  There are a few too many of these examples.  The film becomes a little redundant.  Despite this, Get On Up is still an effective biopic.  It sold me the soundtrack.

Recommend: Yes.  The nonlinear narrative is refreshing in the genre, and the musical set pieces are invigorating.

Availability:  DVD and Blu-ray,  Amazon Instant Video,  iTunes,  Redbox

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