GET ON UP
DIRECTED BY Tate Taylor
STARS Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis
Chadwick Boseman as James Brown in Get On Up (Photo: Universal)
Chadwick Boseman, utterly convincing as baseball legend Jackie Robinson in 42, now wallops another home run with his work as music legend James Brown in the biopic Get On Up. In fact, Boseman is so formidable that, were the film itself just a bit better, he would eventually be basking in the same sort of year-end accolades that greeted Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. Who knows, he may yet.
At any rate, Boseman is the primary reason to see Get On Up, a movie that retains just enough of the controversial parts of Brown's life in an effort to convince audiences that they're watching a truthful, warts-and-all examination. In actuality, the movie is the screen equivalent of a slap on the wrist, rightly extolling the man's musical genius but wrongly sweeping his demons under the rug. Perhaps mindful that Brown's fanbase dwindled after he announced he was supporting Richard Nixon for president (a pair of facts not mentioned in the film), director Tate Taylor (The Help) and his trio of writers wanted to avoid a similar exodus and therefore cast their movie to the widest possible audience — packed auditoriums of folks desiring to hear good music but preferring to not be bothered with such pesky matters as domestic violence and drug abuse (both severely downplayed in the picture). Then there's the film's tendency to present events out of chronological order, a structural decision that in this case proves more annoying than illuminating.
Still, Boseman and Nelsan Ellis (as Bobby Byrd, Brown's put-upon friend and partner) keep us engaged even when the storyline doesn't, and Taylor does a good job of recreating historical moments like Brown stealing The Rolling Stones' thunder at the T.A.M.I. Show and performing a concert immediately after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. In the end, Get On Up is the sort of standard musical biopic (like Clint Eastwood's recent Jersey Boys) that will soon fade from memory even as its soundtrack CD briskly climbs up the charts.