James Brown may be known as The Godfather of Soul, but who knew the guy was such a crazy control freak battling major demons from domestic violence, womanizing and drug abuse?! The new biopic Get On Up takes the audience on the wild journey that was James Brown’s rise from dirt poor orphan to one of the biggest superstars in music. I know many have prematurely compared the look and feel of Get On Up to Ray. I can tell you, the only thing similar between the films is the time span and the fact the film follows examines the career of an African-American singer.
Chadwick Boseman who plays James Brown as an adult is no stranger to playing icons having recently taken on the role of Jackie Robinson in 42. I was not a fan of Bosman’s subdued performance in 42, but he let’s it all hang out as the funky soul singer. Boseman has Brown’s erratic voice down so good that just like the real James Brown, you can only understand about half of what he’s saying in the movie. It doesn’t’ matter, you get Brown’s motives and emotions even if you may be wondering what he just said. Boseman really does become James Brown and seems to be have fun doing it – but it’s not all funk and dancing. He shows off Brown’s darker side displaying the evil that could be shown by the Godfather of Soul. Brown is an entertaining character, but you definitely don’t root for the abusive singer at times.
Boseman is not the only one who gets to shine in Get On Up. Nelsan Ellis plays Bobby Byrd, the one loyal and constant supporter of James Brown. Ellis makes you feel for Byrd who realizes he will never be he star of the show and is just grateful to be along for the ride. Dan Aykroyd also gives his best performance in years as Ben Bart, Brown’s long time manager and guide through the brutal machine that can be the music business. Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis have strong, but very limited roles for having their names on the poster. The true power is the supporting players in Get On Up. Aykroyd and Ellis’ performances convey their love and frustration for Mr. Brown, as he prefers his associates to refer to him as.
The performances of Boseman and company are solid, but what makes Get On Up unique is its frenzied story telling. It skips around focusing on James Brown from when he was a small child until his infamous run-in with the law after someone used his personal toilet without asking the Godfather. The manic and unorthodox style of filmmaking is fitting since the subject matter is James Brown. Jersey Boys could have learned a few lessons in entertaining the crowds from Get On Up. James Brown may have been a despicable human being at times, but he keeps your attention.
Overall, I give Get On Up 3 out of 4 stars.
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