Take a Drink: every time there is a time lapse establishing shot.
Take a Drink: every time an argument leads to sex
Take a Drink: every time James breaks out in a song.
Take a Drink: for everyone who gets hit in the face.
Do a Shot: whenever Brown addresses the audience.
By: The Cinephiliac (Three Beers) –
James Brown wasn’t known as “the hardest working man in entertainment” for nothing. A sensational musician and equally fascinating human being, Brown’s career spanned six decades, leaving a trail of achievements in its path. Brown broke color barriers, became known for his social activism, evolved R&B as a genre, and had a hand in creating arguably the greatest genre of music ever, funk. Professionally he soared the first 40 years of his career, enough to keep him relevant and iconic in the last two decades of his life. But, among glorifying moments of played the Apollo, jump-starting the careers of saxophonist Maceo Parker and bass player Bootsy Collins, Brown had more than his share of confounding pitfalls. A ménage a trois of IRS run-ins, prison stints, and domestic abuse charges was later fueled with lots of PCP use.
Get On Up is a stream of consciousness-type account of Brown’s life that winds from his adolescence into his seniority in the 1980s. We are introduced to the legend of James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) after he enters a building he owns to “drop his kids off at the pool.” He becomes immediately agitated in his PCP-fueled state that someone has taken the liberty to do just that on his own toilet. He retreats to his car for a shotgun then precedes to terrify a group at an insurance conference while ranting about the importance of wanting to take a comfortable shit for himself. The film then weaves through the decades, capturing how James Brown evolved past a life of abuse and abandonment to meet his best friend, and fellow musician, Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), then to receiving life lessons from Little Richard while a member of the Famous Flames, to becoming the man who ran from cops while high out of his mind, resulting in them having to shoot out his tires.
Get on Up captures the essence of James Brown through Boseman’s phenomenally engrossing performance that exhibits Brown’s busting confidence and leadership skills. Boseman delivers his lines with Brown’s sharp wit, making the character a lovable figure despite his shortcomings and moments of being a straight up dick. Brown is lionized by the script’s focus on his tireless work ethic, his strong presence, and ultimately his perfectionism that led to the grooviest, funkiest music of the the time. Between Boseman’s portrayal and Jez Butterworth’s screenplay, it’s easy to see how Brown earned myriad titles from The Godfather of Soul to Soul Brother No. 1. Violia Davis as Brown’s unstable, vacant mother and Ellis as Brown’s longtime friend Byrd both deliver passionate, focused performances that make for some of the film’s best scenes.
A man of one thousand splits
Yet, in light of strong performances from most of the players in the film, the hands down greatest aspect of Get on Up is the booming soundtrack featuring Brown’s music throughout. Often times I heard scattered clapping and cheers from audience members who were dancing in their seats whenever a song played. At times Get on Up felt like a sing-a-long, reminding me of my experience seeing Across the Universe and the joy of joining others in singing iconic songs.
Get on Up’s biographical soundness is similar to the way Noah was a retelling of the Noah and the Ark story. Instead of following the reality of Brown’s life, Get on Up picks and chooses which elements of Brown’s life to fixate on while including a whole mess of fabricated information. I.personally feel that taking such liberties in a biopic detracts from the script’s power as an authority on Brown’s life. Brown had many golden moments and twice as many controversies that get glossed over in the film. We watch fictitious, blandly performed sequences of Brown’s childhood, which includes him watching his parents fight, then copulate in front of him. Odd moments like these made me question every detail the film showed me, especially during a flight to Vietnam where Brown and his crew are shot at and land with a blown out engine (which did not happen in reality). I understand the intention to use dramatic flair and fabricated instances in order to rev a story’s timeline or audience alignment with the character, but attempting to garner sympathy through false pretenses is just an amateur technique.
See, I’m addressing you personally. Ray didn’t think to do that!
For some reason, the decision to have Brown break the fourth wall became a staple in the film. If these moments of Brown talking to the camera asking us if we are ready or winking and making eye contact with the viewer were meant to elicit empathy from us, I felt they failed. Instead, these scenes are awkward, taking viewers out of the experience of his life and reminding us instead that we are watching a work of fiction. Also, Tate Taylor’s direction and Michael McCusker’s editing use an excessive amount of cuts to transition through periods of time, but lack a cohesive nature, preventing the film from having any feeling of fluidity.
Yet, despite the at times comical makeup and moments of weak direction, Get on Up is a fascinating movie that I enjoyed regardless of how annoyed I became at many aspects of it. Get on Up is not an anthology type of biopic. It’s more of a greatest hits. The music uses all of Brown’s typical number 1’s that have been oversaturated in the past few years, just as its focus on his life is a buttered up, superficial account. Get on Up is far from the verbose greatness of Ray, but its psychedelic style is commendable. Fans of Brown’s music will likely enjoy the experience of watching his life unfold, but don’t expect to fall in love with it.