Get On Up

Musical biopics should be viewed with caution. When an estate owns the rights to an artist’s music, they have the power to demand a more flattering portrayal of their prize. Several films have bowed to this with only a brave few having the courage to ‘reveal all’. ‘Get On Up’ is a biopic of famed singer James Brown – dubbed the Godfather of Soul. Within the confines of legality, it tells as much truth as allowed without becoming a ‘Walk Hard’-style parody with the interest level consistent.

Before walking on stage for a concert, singer James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) reflects on his life. Remembering days as a child, with his mother Susie (Viola Davis), through to his first forays into the business with his best friend Bobby (Nelsan Ellis) and manager Ben (Dan Ackroyd). As Brown recalls his past, faces from that time return to haunt him in ways he never imagined.

‘Get On Up’ is a superficially stylish remembrance under Tate Taylor’s steady direction. Unlike most in the genre, ‘Get On Up’ uses a non-linear time-line. This reflects the scattered genius of Brown’s psyche with his emerging talent clearly seen throughout the years. Although there’s a feeling much more could have been said about his life, the screenplay gives a reasonably raw overview of a talented but very flawed individual.

There’s no question ‘Get On Up’ belongs to Boseman. Even if the story doesn’t delve as much into its subject’s life as you’d wish, Boseman exudes genuine charisma as Brown. He conveys Brown’s dynamic energy and spirited determination, especially surviving the often shocking racial prejudices of the era. His co-stars are equally fine with the music, staging and costuming first rate.

‘Get On Up’ is the type of biopic where you wish more was said. A longer mini-series may have fleshed out the story better. With his recent passing, ‘Get On Up’ now stands as a testament not only to Brown but also to Boseman. He was gone far too soon but like Brown’s music, Boseman’s contribution to entertainment won’t be forgotten by his many admirers.

Rating out of 10: 7


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