Get On Up

| January 3, 2015

I wasn’t overly aware of James Brown and his influence on music going into this biopic.  Of course I recognized a lot of the songs and have really have been a fan of Brown’s music for all of my life, but I never put it together that they were all the same person.  I feel like this puts me in a unique position to view this film as a true outsider.

Chadwick Boseman (42) is getting a lot of praise for his portrayal of James Brown here, and while the Brown mannerisms were foreign to me, I was still able to appreciate the physicality Boseman brought to the role.  Watching him dance in character and have complete control over his body to glide across stage in a series of smooth and mechanically precise movements was fascinating to watch.  I assume his speaking voice was true to the real James Brown, but it was difficult to understand what he was saying a lot of the time.  It almost felt like the film should have been subtitled to get the full effect.

That’s a minor issue, but actually while I did enjoy Get On Up, there were a few things that bothered me about it.  The biggest problem is that there’s no conflict in the movie.  Brown ascends to stardom very easily, is a huge success and basically omnipotent when it comes to his own career.  Situation that should create conflict are glossed over or ignored completely.  For example, Brown leaves his first wife for another woman after spotting her in the crowd at one of his concerts.  Surely this must have caused some animosity between Brown and his first wife, been confusing for their children, and put a strain on his career, but instead we just jump ahead to a point where everyone amicably gets along.  For some reason, Brown is jealous of his second wife and it makes him abusive towards her but I don’t know where that comes from as it isn’t established in his first marriage that he’s a jealous person.  Another deflated conflict comes late in the movie when Brown’s band quits due to poor working conditions.  This doesn’t faze Brown at all given there are hundreds of musicians waiting in line to play for him, so I’m not sure what this contributes to the film.

Structurally, the film has some oddities as well.  I was able to follow its non-linear timeline no problem, and it’s a real testament to the film that they’re able to jump around in time so much and the audience is never disoriented.  I’m actually not sure how they managed to pull that off so effectively.  The bigger issue for me is the film has a few fantastical elements thrown in randomly.  Occasionally, Boseman will talk to the camera, or there will be a dream-like sequence where the rules of the world are confused.  I’m all for this type of experimental storytelling in movies, but it has to be consistent, and it’s just not here.

Get On Up is now available on Digital HD and comes to home video January 6, 2014 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment with a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack loaded with special features, in addition to a streamlined DVD release.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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