by AARON MEGAR
Get On Up, while carrying all the components of a great movie – phenomenal acting, passionate dialogue, and precise directing – is missing the base of all great movies, and therefore is doomed from the start. The film lacks a substantial plot, nothing that the audience can sink their teeth into, and instead delivers an excellent portrayal of the life and times of James Brown.
Chadwick Boseman, who starred as Jackie Robinson in 42, once again plays a historic character in a way that makes him seem as real as James Brown himself. Due to the film’s meaningless and motionless plot, however, the film leaves the viewer unsatisfied, wondering why they just sat through those 2 hours of bright lights, funk music, and not much else.
Boseman’s performance as James Brown is the film’s greatest attribute, perfectly illustrating the flare and swagger that characterized James Brown. Brown’s evolution from a raw, energetic young showman to a smart, confident, international superstar is played out in a manner that feels real and authentic, not a bit overdone but still completely understood. Boseman creates a character that the audience can easily fall in love with and devote their support to, even when his abusive nature or his short temper appear on the screen.
As Brown grows, he continues to become more and more self reliant, and with that he holds himself on a pedestal far above anybody else. He is rotten to his bandmates and even eventually his best friend, Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), and the viewer stands by his side through all of this simply because he’s James Brown and James Brown is right, as Brown explains multiple times throughout the movie.
The entertaining aspect of Get On Up is based around a combination of Brown’s flare and the soul music itself. The audience is never really on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next, but rather caught up in the fast paced dances and impassioned on-stage performances that take up much of the movie. The dialogue creates drama in all the non-music scenes, but these scenes can only captivate the viewer until they leave the screen, at which point the scene seems meaningless to a greater plot that in reality does not exist. Regardless, the movie, at its core, is absorbing, charming, and nearly impossible to take an eye off of.
With a more compelling plot, the combination of Tate Taylor’s directing and Boseman’s acting would have the potential to be a very strong film, if not a great one. However, the script itself does not contain as much drama as it could have, such as Brown’s political activism, drug use, and trouble with the law, and Brown’s life isn’t necessarily made for a screenplay anyway. While the film touches on these more edgy subjects, it only scratches the surface, maintaining a PG-13 rating that plagues the film and takes from the audience what could have been an awesome depiction of the life of the King of Funk, James Brown.