Get On Up fits perfectly into the routine I just described. But, just because it is predictable, does not mean that it’s not very enjoyable.
Get On Up is the story of James Brown, known as The Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother Number One, Mr. Dynamite, Mr. Please-Please-Please, The King of Funk, and The Hardest Working Man In Show Business. It diverges slightly from the formula in that the film is not told completely chronologically, jumping back and forth between various points of his career and life, although it never gets so linear that you cannot keep track of where you are. Brown himself is portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, who does quite a good job. He’s got down both the speech style of the period and Brown’s distinctive screech (you know it, the one at the beginning of “I Got You”). Plus, not many people can pull-off wearing clothes that shiny, but Boseman is one of them.
Now, with a movie like this, the most important thing is the music. Fortunately, James Brown’s music lends itself very well to a film adaptation. With songs like “Please Please Please”, “I Got You”, and “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” lending their peppy and upbeat tempos to the film, the temptation to tap your foot along with the beat will overpower even those who are not big fans of Brown. In addition, there is also an original score to the film, which is often applied to more sobering moments of the film, especially the flashbacks to Brown’s less-than-happy childhood.
The film is also a good period piece, and that includes both the parts set in the 60s and 70s during the height of Brown’s career and the flashback scenes in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The costumes and sets both recall the styles of the times, and the portrayal of various actors recalls the social attitudes of the same time periods, which includes less than flattering portrayals of some (but certainly not all), whites. While never venturing into heavy social commentary, it does not sugarcoat history, nor does it gloss over some of Brown’s less than noble characteristics.
Like I said, Get On Up is very predictable, but with a biographical film that is inevitable; there are so many ways you can tell a biographical story and have it make a decent amount of sense (although I would like to see what Quentin Tarantino would do with one…). But that’s also not a bad thing, because we do not go to see a biographical film and expect it to be avant-garde. We go because we want to know the story of that specific person, and with musicians, to hear their music pump through the heavy-duty speakers at the movie theatre. Get On Up is predictable, but its damn fun. I challenge you to go to it and not hum along or at least tap your foot.
“So good, so good, cause I got you.”