Genre: Biography, Drama, Music
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis
With the inherent narrative flaws associated with the genre, the biopic has become something of a platform for an actor to showcase their talents. Indeed, Get on Up is one such film. As a biopic of the legendary Godfather of Soul, James Brown, it’s a film that rarely scratches the surface beyond the man’s musical talents and his life story, but as a showcase for its star Chadwick Boseman, it’s a grandstanding showcase indeed.
From his troubled upbringing and the dizzying heights of success, to Brown’s more turbulent run-ins with the law, Tate Taylor’s (The Help) film hits all the beats that a musical biopic is required to hit. However, if you’re looking for something more intimate, with a deeper dissection of the man behind the legend, then you’ve come to the wrong place; Get on Up is a celebration of Brown’s life and legacy as an artist. Any form of conflict or personal relationships is merely woven in to form a narrative so that the film doesn’t just feel like a string of great musical and concert sequences.
The film may celebrate Brown’s music, but it never really goes beyond what any Brown fan hasn’t read somewhere in an official or unofficial autobiography. His friendship with Nelsan Ellis’ Bobby Byrd is never fully explored beyond the superficial level and an incident of domestic violence is quickly glossed over, feeling misjudged and thrown in because it is already common knowledge and had to be addressed.
As a celebration of Brown and his music, Get on Up delivers. There are some superbly executed musical scenes, and Chadwick Boseman portrays Brown’s star charisma in a powerhouse of a central performance. After impressing in films such as 42 and Draft Day, Boseman reaches new heights here. From the voice, to the movements, Boseman becomes Brown before our very eyes, and then does one better by going beyond mere impersonation by adding a weight and depth to his character, even if the script doesn’t always give him the material to do so.
A reunion between Brown and the mother who abandoned him as a child offers a truly genuine moment of insight into the man behind the myth, with Viola Davis delivering a moving and well-handled performance as Susie Brown.
It’s easy to see why Boseman is currently one of the most in demand actors in Hollywood. He’s a pure talent, through and through, with a star power that could eventually lead him to become one of the biggest stars of his generation.
So while Get on Up veers on the more saccharine, televisual biopic side of things, the film is lifted by a superb performance by its leading man.