Get On Up (2014): The Funk Don’t Quit

Posted: August 5, 2014 in Biography, Drama, Music
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get_on_up_xlgAs a young boy living on the streets of Augusta, Georgia, James Brown struggles with the abandonment of his father to the war and his mother due to her fractured relationship with his father. During his teenage years, he gets himself into trouble with the law but is bailed out due to a chance meeting with an up-and-coming talent, Bobby Byrd. With a fresh, new home and new lease on life, he convinces Bobby and his friends to take a chance and sing after a Little Richard performance. As the group gets discovered and rises into mountains of success, King Records decides that they see the potential in James Brown’s sound but show no commitment to the rest of the group. Only Bobby stays with James following this confrontation, but the star continues to rise and James continues to make hit after hit. With success comes ego and pride, leaving James to determine what is most vital in his life.

Starring: Chadwick Boseman (James Brown), Nelsan Ellis (Bobby Byrd), Dan Aykroyd (Ben Bart), Viola Davis (Susie Brown), Lennie James (Joe Brown), Fred Melamed (Syd Nathan), Craig Robinson (Maceo Parker), Jill Scott (Dee Dee Brown), Octavia Spencer (Aunt Honey), Josh Hopkins (Ralph Bass), Brandon Smith (Little Richard)

Capturing the personality of the Godfather of Funk, Chadwick Boseman seemed to honor the late musical genius with his performance. While his voice and his moves were a treat for the ears and eyes, the sound mixing made it difficult to discern a lot of his dialogue. The emotion was clear, but the wordage was not. Ellis was a strong supporting character with his clear devotion and mirroring of the mood presented by Boseman. The rest of the cast also provided strong performances, particularly Aykroyd, Davis, James, Robinson, and Spencer.

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Having proven success with The Help, Tate Taylor mixed a nonlinear storyline with fourth-wall breaks and dynamic musical performances to encapsulate the viewer. James Brown clearly led a very challenging life. At a young age, his mother and father abandoned him, also leaving him with relatively poor representations of how to treat other people. He was fortunate to have an aunt who cared enough to take care of him, but even her support and his involvement in church did not keep him from attempting to steal a suit and landing in jail. The incident may have been a blessing because it connected him to Bobby Byrd. As Byrd later revealed, he knew at one point that James was a frontman and accepted that his fame would never reach his level. Throughout much of the rest of the film, the story of James’s life was painted to be a tapestry of pain, pride, and meteoric fame, only to crash after losing the last person willing to put up with his ego.

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The film had many great elements, but it did come off as uneven at times. This was, in large part, due to the jumpy storytelling and sometimes odd transitions. There were some times where either the young or famous version of James would break the fourth-wall with a smile or nod to the camera in a scene that hardly matched the moment of levity. Otherwise, it was impressive to see someone take on the singing and dancing to match what James Brown accomplished and produced throughout his career. Boseman had a dancing background and was more than successful at adapting James’s presence in the big screen. In many ways, this was a film that helps the viewer fall in love with James Brown’s music and dancing abilities all over again.

While 42 was a breakout hit for Chadwick Boseman, Get On Up was a more masterful representation of his acting talents and his portrayal of a famous, historical figure.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

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