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Written by / 8/06/2014 / No comments / , , , ,

CHADWICK BOSEMAN AS JAMES BROWN IN GET ON UP

2014 rating: ***
GET ON UP is an entertaining music biopic that sticks firmly to the tunes, only veering off during particular roadblocks caused by James Brown’s unpredictable behavior…

The Godfather of Soul wound up polarizing his family, band, and sidekick/fellow musician Bobby Byrd, who, played by Nelsan Ellis, is almost as important as Chadwick Boseman's portrayal of a man who made soul music funky and loud, and bankable…

Both have wonderful chemistry and seem like they really know and love each other. So while Brown’s abuse towards his wife is glossed over quickly, the real suspense depends on the friendship and collaboration with Byrd, remaining a faithful barometer throughout the turmoil. 

At first, in a bizarre prelude set in 1988 having to do with Brown’s run-in with a group of totally unhip Caucasians (no surprise for director Tate Taylor), Bosewick seems like he’s doing an imitation – but after we venture back in time, the performance blends neatly into the music. And while scenes of Brown as a youngster, dealing with an abusive father, are heartfelt and deeply tragic, they really serve as sporadic reminders to humble beginnings, continuing throughout the story in an attempt to visualize a haunted inner-child without being too artsy or pretentious.  

The real James Brown
While we unfortunately never learn about the inspirations of the classic songs, ranging from “I Feel Good” to “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” we experience the singer’s climb through various stages, literally, providing examples of how the James Brown sound differentiated from everything and everyone else, including Little Richard and The Rolling Stones...

He created music that not only punctuated the downbeat but  continuously “got down” without letting up. Thankfully the transition of that unique groove onto the big screen isn’t filtered in the process, as happens in many “rock biopics.”

Real life rhythm and blues fanatic Dan Aykroyd, who appeared with Brown in THE BLUES BROTHERS, plays one of the few cool white dudes: the pivotal manager/promoter who winds up learning from his own student about business...

It’s fun seeing Brown taking over by sticking to his guns, sometimes sharing information with the audience via breaking the fourth wall. Although random dramatic scenes, planted throughout the concerts and recording sessions, often feel out of place and, in the case of one overlong conversation with his deadbeat mother (Viola Davis), downright unnecessary. Yet it’s the music that really mattered in Brown’s career, and that’s what carries the film.
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