Not following the usual biopic formula, Get on Up is an interesting movie about the life of the king of soul, James Brown. Incredibly influential with a career spanning over fifty years, Brown started several genres and left us a lot of great music. However, you can read all about that on his wiki page or in the book The One: The Life and Music of James Brown by RJ Smith. We’re here to talk about the movie that will show you just a glimpse of him by focusing on some of the defining moments of his life and career. But not before I mention just one more thing.
I have to admit that for the longest time I associated Brown with cocaine and being fucked up. I used to listen to Superbad on repeat (still do) as the ultimate expression of passion and nihilism. The lyrics are just too suggestive not to get carried away and frame them in whatever way you find appropriate. Just switch the word soul with cocaine and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I switched it with marijuana and instantly knew how our homeboy felt.
I got somethin’ that makes me wanna shout I got somethin’ that tells me what it’s all about Huh, I got soul and I’m super bad!
I love, I love to do my thing, Ha. and I, and I don’t need, no one else Sometimes I feels so nice, good god I jump back, I wanna kiss myself
James Brown – Superbad
Get on Up used a non-linear style of storytelling where we randomly jump from different events and times that marked his life. This makes the movie pretty erratic and incoherent, especially for those who were expecting that neat and straight-forward biopic. However, don’t worry, we will learn a lot about Brown from his childhood spent in poverty to rise to stardom.
This is a bold decision complete with the “breaking of the fourth wall” as Chadwick Boseman talks directly to the camera several times. He was phenomenal here and he’s one of the main reasons why you should check out this movie. From dance moves to mannerisms and accent, he got James down perfectly. And, of course, did all his own dancing. The rest of the cast was pretty good too, with Dan Aykroyd and Nelsan Ellis leading the pack.
I am certain that someone will make a better movie about his life but for now, this is what we got. They left out quite a few things like the rampant drug use in his later years, domestic violence charges and his unbelievable work ethic. James was a driven and fascinating man and if Get on Up can get you to listen to a couple of his songs or even read up on him then mission accomplished. I totally somehow forgot that “This is a man’s world” is his song so it really touched me when I heard it.
Plus this is not one of those movies where you will hear just a couple of songs but a full-on soul/funk extravaganza with a lot of music. In the end, if you’re looking for not your average music biopic, check out Get on Up, it’s pretty good. The stream-of-thought storytelling keeps the pacing tight and there are no prolonged or melodramatic scenes here. If you’re looking for more similar movies, I recommend you check out Walk the Line, Control, Crazy Heart, The Dirt and Ray.
Director: Tate Taylor
Writers: John-Henry Butterworth, Steven Baigelman, Jez Butterworth
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer
Fun Facts: Dan Aykroyd and the real James Brown appeared together in The Blues Brothers (1980), Doctor Detroit (1983), the Super Bowl XXXI (1997) halftime show, and Blues Brothers 2000 (1998).