Get On Up: the James Brown story. The film allows Brown’s music to dominate the story without concealing his troubled life. Chadwick Boseman is excellent as James Brown. He was superb as Jackie Robinson in 42, and in Get On Up, he manages to top that fine performance. The director, Tate Taylor (The Help), wisely allows Brown’s voice to be heard instead of substituting the actor’s voice as Eastwood did in Jersey Boys. Both movies highlight singers whose lives were quite unique. Their stories, however, are entirely different, including the use of Brown’s actual voice. The film’s music producer is Mick Jagger, who has acknowledged his artistic indebtedness to the great James Brown. Taylor chooses to use a non-linear presentation. Childhood scenes are interspersed along Brown’s path to stardom. While I usually find this an annoyance, that is not the case in this film in part because dates and places are indicated onscreen. He doesn’t hide Brown’s rural, violent and impoverished background, and we’re aware of Brown’s lack of formal schooling. Brown’s mother left when he was a young boy and his father eventually left him with a paternal aunt named Honey. Both Viola Davis as Brown’s mother and Octavia Spencer as Aunt Honey give powerful performances during their very limited screen time. Also deserving of special mention is Brandon Mychal Smith as Little Richard. A pivotal point in Brown’s career was seeing Little Richard perform at a juke joint in 1954. The film has Little Richard giving Brown advice as to recording a demo, which leads to his first hit, “Please, Please, Please”. (I remember being blown away the first time I heard the song). During the film’s 138 minutes, the longtime relationship between Brown and Bobby Boyd (Nelsan Ellis) is explained as well as the important role that Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd), Brown’s record promoter, played in Brown’s life. The film implies that Brown’s money problems occurred after Bart’s death. I don’t know enough about Brown’s life to say whether it is factual but what is true, is that Brown’s musical talents were unique and he remains an American icon.
Steven Guttman, Esq.