Get on Up
Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis
August 1, 2014
2 hours 19 minutes
Tate Taylor's "The Help," released back in 2011, was truly one of the biggest surprises of that year for me. I was even one of the first to boldly state "Octavia Spencer is going to win the Oscar" then. When I found out that Taylor was making a new film starring Chadwick Boseman from "42" and his leading ladies from "The Help," Spencer and Viola Davis, I couldn't have been more intrigued. I didn't really know much about James Brown other than a few of his songs going into the movie, so I was hoping that the film would tell a fascinating enough story to get my attention peaked. And while the story is interesting, and Chadwick Boseman's performance as James Brown is fantastic, I felt that the reason why "Get on Up" fails to deliver the way "The Help" delivered is due to the film itself feeling jumbled and bloated.
My biggest complaint here is how the movie has a fetish of sorts for jumping all throughout the life of James Brown. One scene could take place in 1988, and the next scene could take place in 1939. There's no purpose to this movie being like this, and yet it's done I guess for some type of artistic merit that the editors and screenwriters felt they had. Not to mention, there are some sequences, particularly one involving Viola Davis as an older lady, that are literally separated by 45 minutes to an hour's worth of other material for no apparent reason. In fact, I turned to my buddy as we were both thinking "Where did Viola Davis go?" There's even a scene that shows Brown slapping his wife, and this is literally never addressed again for the rest of the movie. That just kind of bugged me, personally. Also, there were some scenes where Brown was breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience. I don't know why this happened, but it did, and it was pretty damn unnecessary if you ask me. If there was a method to why the filmmakers were doing this, then I would have been fine with this. But honestly, I couldn't see any reason why these guys did what they did.
As I said, Chadwick Boseman is great in the movie as James Brown. He totally channels James Brown and makes the character vile, greedy, and very charismatic all at the same time. While I didn't think he was as great in this as he was playing Jackie Robinson in "42," Boseman still owns every scene he's in and gives further reason as to why I called him "the next Denzel Washington." Another actor in the film who I felt really stole some of the show from Boseman is Nelsan Ellis, playing Bobby Byrd. I haven't seen his work on the show "True Blood," but I could tell from this performance how talented he is. I'd love to see him in many more films, because he brought a nice blend of energy that appropriately clashed with Brown's sly attitude. Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Dan Aykroyd are also very good in the film, but not much can really be said about them other than that.
"Get on Up" is not as good as a movie with talent of this caliber behind it should have been, but I would still say it's worth checking out at home when it becomes available digitally. The editing might not make much sense and there might be moments that are totally out of place or never really gone into any further, but it's really thanks to Boseman's engaging presence and the story of the Godfather of Soul itself being pretty interesting that makes me recommend this. It's nowhere near the quality of "The Help," but I still see Tate Taylor becoming a very successful director if he chooses more engaging and interesting scripts. This applies to Chadwick Boseman too, as I still think he captures the same type of charisma and energy that Denzel Washington still has in his roles today. Overall, "Get on Up" has its fair share of flaws, but if you can get past them, this is a pretty decent film to rent in a few months.
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