Get On Up

Get On Up

In Theatres: 
Aug 01, 2014
Running Time: 
138 minutes
Paying Homage

Jagged Films helped produce this biopic and Mick Jagger himself is listed as one of the film's producers.

This biopic of James Brown’s incredible and tumultuous life could have been so spectacular.  James Brown was an incredibly complex and complicated man. His childhood was tragic and hard, his talent as immeasurable as his ego, and his personal relationships were often spotted with drug addiction and domestic abuse.  The drama of Brown’s life should make for an incredibly compelling story.  Brown's life was marked with lows so low that they can only be matched with the highs Brown achieved and the marks he left on America; musically, culturally, and politically.


Chadwick Boseman is absolutely phenomenal as James Brown. The study that he poured into recreating the legendary icon for this film is evident. Boseman’s persistent efforts manifest in the way he mimics Brown’s voice, facial expressions, signature walk, the particular way Brown held his many ringed fingers separately from the other; no detail was left to chance. Even though Boseman doesn’t sing a note, he gives his all during each and every one of the films many concerts, dance maneuvers, and musical recreations. As Brown ages, the costumes and makeup that Boseman inhabits are so exact I honestly thought the very first scene was a shot of Brown himself.

Unlike what seems to be many moviegoers, I deeply enjoyed Boseman in "42", but it is in "Get On Up", that he (like Brown would to his own audience) slays us. While I am sure "Get On Up" will premier at the top of the box office this weekend, I am only sad that it is not the movie Boseman nor Brown deserve. "Get On Up" is so incredibly uneven that it is irritating. Bizarre choices range from an oddly overused soft focus (I actually checked my glasses to make sure they weren’t greasy, that’s how blown out it was), portraying violent relationships as simultaneously sexually arousing to  confusing editing (in one scene it is hard to tell if Brown is perceiving the world differently due a brain injury or if he is just dreaming). The narrative uses a nonlinear method that jumps between various points in Brown’s life that seem to have nothing to do with each other and Boseman breaks the fourth wall in ways that feel very uncomfortable.


However, when the film lets its leads just do their craft, it excels!  Scenes between Brown and his best friend Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) feel incredibly genuine. Their creative capabilities seem to flow naturally and their fights crackle with conflict. When Ellis’ eyes became teary over during an argument, you could almost feel the heat rolling from him.


A scene where Brown and his estranged mother (Viola Davis) reunite is so gut wrenching and heart breaking, you could almost wish history were different so that they could have more scenes together. It is almost impossible to overemphasize the chemistry Boseman and Davis create.

Octavia Spencer as Aunt Honey makes the most of every scene she’s in, but the truth is she is vastly and oddly underutilized. The difference Aunt Honey makes in Brown’s life or what role she played for him in his life is left very (puzzlingly) vague.


The only sequence that could rival Davis and Boseman is that of Little Richard (Brandon Smith) and James Brown meeting. Richard’s notorious flamboyance can be a tricky part to play, as often it can often read comedic or not serious. Nevertheless, Smith pulls this off with aplomb, stealing the scene from under Boseman. Smith’s passionate and careful performance of Richard made me want to see him starring in a Little Richard biopic immediately.


"Get On Up" has an amazing cast (Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer, Tika Sumpter, Brandon Smith, Tariq Trotter, Aloe Blacc) and reliving the music, the fashion, and Brown’s incredible give-all performances are thrilling. Still, odd direction, glazing over the more gritty topics of Brown’s life, and confusing editing truly hamper what could’ve been a superb picture.


If only this film could get out of its own way.

Maria Jackson
Review by Maria Jackson
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MsMarvJ's picture

Maria, I must say your review is excellently written. I was going to see the movie anyway but I want to see it even more now! Thanks for the info!!