GET ON UP (2014)

Running Time: 138 mins.                     Rating: x Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Tate Taylor

Genre: Biography/Drama/Music

Country: USA

Language: English

Distributor: Universal

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer, Josh Hopkins, Brandon Smith, Tika Sumpter, Aunjanue Ellis, Tariq Trotter, Aloe Blacc, Keith Robinson, Ahna O’Reilly


It’s a fact that rap music has more white customers than black, so there is indeed a crossover appeal of African-American music and dance.  It’s no secret that soul, with James Brown as its leading figure, has crossed over as well, making Tate Taylor’s GET ON UP a potential box office blockbuster with audiences of all denominations. Whether young African-Americans will get on up for the movie is anybody’s guess given the monopolizing power of rap with this energetic group.

GET ON UP is blessed with a dynamic lead performance from Chadwick Boseman as James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, an actor heretofore known for his relatively muted job in the Jackie Robinson Story, 42.  As one reviewer says, when Boseman sings it’s as though electricity were running through his body. No need for lip-synching Brown’s actual voice: Boseman has the pipes and what’s more the rubber legs that gave James Brown his huge, global audience.

Scripters Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth have adapted Steven Baigelman’s story tracing key events in Brown’s life from is early years to age sixty, with the singer’s death on Christmas Day 2006 mentioned in the epilogue.  The chronology is confusing: a straight biopic would have been clearer with no risk of boredom.  From time to time director Taylor, whose THE HELP introduces three women who break societal rules with a writing project, flashes back to Brown’s youth.  Brown’s abusive dad (Lennie James) chases away his mother (Viola Davis), the latter taking a long absence from the boy, who is brought up by his paternal aunt, Honey (Octavia Spencer).  In the fragmentary scenes that follow, many of which are deliberately exaggerated for dramatic effect, Brown is shot at while riding in a plane over Vietnam; he invades a business meeting with a rifle in an overlong scene that shows the singer in a comic, if violent, breakdown; he treats his band abusively, particularly when challenged by the drummer who insists that Brown has not paid them for weeks; and he appears to chase away his right-hand man, Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), who serves as a reasonable, moderate sidekick to Brown’s histrionics.

Considerable time is devoted to Brown relationship with his Jewish promoter (Dan Aykroyd), but clearly GET ON UP is nothing if not an overlong, discontinuous look at a man who is considered by one major source to the seventh most important entertainer in U.S. history.  Boseman is terrific, delivering the emotional path traveled by a full-of-himself but emotionally disturbed singer and dancer, making his colleagues, two wives, and other who crossed his path into relatively colorless figures.


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