With regard to the obvious, Get On Up fires at full 5-star capacity. Packing major firepower from director Tate Taylor ("The Help"), titan producer Brian Grazer (holy moly, just look'im up), and risen star Chadwick Boseman, it delivers everything one could ask for with regard to performance, musicality, and heart.
A+ there, no question.
I adore the fact that no prostheic makeup of any kind was employed. Though Boseman towers over Brown by a full 7" and bears little resemblance his bone structure, I nevertheless forgot who I was looking at on several occasions, so completely did Boseman personify Brown's mannerisms and personal demeanor. (You can learn more about how he accomplished that here, and the effect it had on those around him, including those who knew Brown.)
It's not about looking like one's subject, but rather about conveying that person. It's not about physicality, it's about essence. About personhood. And not only does this make for a much more resonant portrayal, but it also clears the way for some truly stellar acting. Anyone with the basic structure can wear the makeup and achieve the resemblance; only a true actor can accomplish it without the safety net. The subject, the actor, the audience: win win win.
Director Tate Taylor beautifully depicts what young James was seeing as a child, as "the funk" was born within him and empowered him to triumph over whatever horrendous event was befalling him (and there were many). One scene in particular reminded me of "Begin Again", as the performers in the moment transformed into the full musical production that only James could envision. Brilliant.
Where "Get On Up" lost some ground from me was in non-musical technical execution and its handling of domestic violence. Screen writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth employed two unusual structural devices to tell the story, both of which could have been highly effective in their own rights, but fell short in the finished product. There just wasn't enough command and artistry in the direction, and their power was lost.
And I'll grant that everything needn't be held up as societal commentary, but to present three such scenes and say nothing about them is just plain hurtful, especially after early on in the film, Brown waxes poetic about how it's a man's job to cover his woman. There's an entire enormous conversation underway around this issue, and to present violence as something that turns women on is egregious. (And for the record, we're not talking about Christian Grey & Friends here, that's a whole different enormous conversation.)
So that's why it lost a star and a half, but for the main reason to see it, see it. And I strongly urge you to have some James Brown at the ready for the ride home.
You're gonna need it!
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jill Scott, Lennie James, Aunjanue Ellis, Fred Melamed, Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Story: Unflinching biopic of the legendary James Brown, from his childhood of extreme poverty to becoming one of the single most influential musicians in history. (Biography, Drama, Musical)
3.5/5 Stars | Themes: Ambition, Competence, Humility, Legacy, Perseverance, Vision, Zest
Rated PG-13 | 138 min. | Official Site | Official Facebook | View Trailer | My Full Review
Screened Jul 29th at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX