GET ON UP: REVIEW – Mr. James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, the Prime Minister of Funk, gets the kind of musical biopic of which he would have heartily approved.
Eschewing the Hallmark prestige approach to biography of the likes of Ray and Walk the Line, Get On Up starts with a crack-high shotgun toting James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) shuffling into one of his buildings to complain someone’s done a number two in his commode. From that point on the film jumps about in an eclectic, electric and entertaining way, taking as its main inspiration Brown’s own hard hitting and heavy super funk. Sure we see Brown’s no name, dirt poor beginnings. The hunger, abuse and deprivation. But there are no straight lines here, narratively and we leap back and forth, on a trip to Vietnam, a TV show supporting the Rolling Stones and back again to an unconventional rise to fame by a boy who never lets the poverty and suffering infringe on his epic quest to reinvent himself and the world with him.
Boseman is amazing. His performance as Brown is of an individual who is always on stage – insisting on a mannered formality and a third person identification that becomes epic. He struts around as if even when he isn’t on stage the music is in his bones, in his limbs. Likewise his voice is of a man who’s only a yelp or a whisper away from a song. It is testament to Boseman’s prowess as an actor that we manage to glimpse occasionally the interior of a man who has otherwise closed himself off almost entirely. His closest collaborator is Bobby Byrd, played by Nelsan Ellis, the man who bails Brown from jail and gets him on the Chitlin circuit of blues music. In fact, if you want to grasp for some kind of narrative structure, the film could be understood as a troubled bromance, between Brown’s loud genius and Byrd’s quiet enabler.
Winter’s Bone and The Help director Tate Taylor’s direction is colorful and inspired, with some lovely surreal moments. The music is given ample screen time and the performances are magically transposed to the screen. How this film failed to pick up an actor’s Oscar nomination is already baffling, but the technical aplomb of the movie also deserves some award love. Jez and John-Henry Butterworth’s screenplay is both eloquent and snappy, full of humor, but also – like its subject – not eschewing the dark side of an essentially troubled man.
Not for a while has the bag seemed so brand new.
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