Get on Up is directed by Tate Taylor who has a couple of feature length projects behind him including The Help (2011) that features African American civil rights which probably caught the attention of the producers. The screenplay was written by the Butterworth brothers, Jez and John-Henry, who also worked on Edge of Tomorrow (2014).
The film is a biopic of the hardest working man in show business, Mr James Brown. It shows his impoverished childhood, his broken relationship with his parents and his rise to fame and fortune. Along for the ride, for the good times and the bad, is Bobby Byrd. The man that helped him out of prison as a teenager and acted as his backing singer for many years.
There is one word I thought I would never use with a James Brown film and that word is boring. Sadly this film is just a little bit boring. The main problem is the way the story is cobbled together. Like all modern films we can no longer get a story told in chronological order. You have to have the tease of the end of the movie before we jump back in time and reveal the story through the use of flashback.
Unfortunately the timeline in this film is all over the place and I spent significant portions of time trying to figure out where I was in James Brown’s life. The changing clothes and hair helped but, there is a sequence where we meet his mother for the first time in something like twenty years which is followed by Bobby Byrd walking out and then we’re with the mother back stage again. Why? In what way did that creative decision help me understand the relationship or drive the story forward?
The story appears to happen in isolation of the world around James Brown. America in the sixties and seventies is a place of great social upheaval and change. As a viewer you get little sense of what is going on or the impact that his music is having. The film seems to be going down the route of James Brown as a narrator but then there are scenes in which he doesn’t feature and would have no knowledge of. The appearance of Allison Janney in a pointless five minutes which ends with her dancing in an embarrassing fashion is typical of that problem.
The one saving grace of this film is the performance of Chadwick Boseman as Mr James Brown. He plays the role from the age of 16 to 60 so to speak. He must have done some intense preparation to get ready for the role as he captures the energy of the live performances and the voice sounds right. We’ll be getting to see more of this young man now that he has landed the role of Black Panther in the Marvel cinematic universe.
Overall its inoffensive but did nothing to give me an insight into this amazing performer and complex private man. The warning sign should have been that there were two people in the screening I attended on Sunday afternoon. The other person was my wife …