It’s not too far off to predict that Guardians of the Galaxy will be the highest grossing movie this weekend. If you only see one movie this weekend, make sure you see it. But if by some chance you do see more than one, try not to miss out on Get On Up, the James Brown biopic from Tate Taylor, the director of The Help. Based on a script that shifts between time periods like one written by David S. Goyer, this period piece isn’t great and it does suffer from a bit of an excessive run time (just like The Help), but one thing is certain: the performance of Chadwick Boseman is one of the best of the year. Also along for the ride is Nelsan Ellis (he played Martin Luther King Jr. in Lee Daniel’s The Butler) as well as Craig Robinson (This Is the End.) And let’s not forget about Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, the queens of the African-American historical period piece.
At 138 mins, almost the same running time as The Help, it could be easy for the average moviegoer to dismiss this film altogether. I feel that only those over sixty will be the main audience seeing this film in the cinema. And that’s not really a surprise. In fact, there were maybe only a handful of young adults in my theater and even they were accompanied by their dads and granddads. So you get the point. I am only 19 and I really enjoyed the heck out this movie, so if you are around my age and you are considering seeing this movie, then hopefully you take my advice. For those reading my review who grew up in the time of James Brown’s musical reign, you already know you will see this movie, but let me try to convince you even further.
Here’s the thing about Get On Up. Unlike The Help, it doesn’t feel like an Oscar contender. It doesn’t reek of pretentious talent that masquerades as a loud call for Oscar recognition. Instead, it feels much smaller. The screenplay by John-Henry Butterworth, Jez Butterworth, and Steven Baigelman doesn’t feature any real standout scenes that could make the film a classic in the biopic genre. I didn’t find it hard to follow, but it did jump around different time periods in the life of Brown and I can see how that could confuse people, especially the age range that is targeted here. And I do have to say that some of the scenes involving Brown as an older man (especially the opening scene in the film) don’t work and sometimes seem downright silly. So what makes the movie good? Well, it’s all in the performances. Or should I just say the performance?
The movie covers James Brown’s life from his rough childhood (in dramatically rich scenes that are a bit underdeveloped due to the flashback style of filmmaking used) to his arrogant power trips after having a successful career. Chadwick Boseman doesn’t just own this role. He defines it. If we ever get another movie about the life of Brown, this is going to be the performance to beat. The movie itself has room for improvement, but I can’t see anyone playing the Godfather of Soul quite as well as this guy. Known only by the mainstream audience for playing Jackie Robinson in 42, it could be understandable for die hard fans of James Brown to write Boseman off for being too inexperienced for the role. Those people should really think again. Not only is he better than he was in 42 (which is a very good and very underrated movie), but he is nearly perfect in this star making performance. He loses himself in character, appearance, and dialect. You’ll forget he’s wearing prosthetic makeup. He’s that good.
Nelson Ellis offers some strong supporting work, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are great as usual in their smaller roles, and I have to say that while watching Craig Robinson in the background during the musical sets I almost wished he would go to a piano and perform “Take Yo Panties Off.” (If you get that reference, I’ll love you forever.) The music, also is great. It may have felt like a better film if Chadwick Boseman himself were performing the songs instead of the final result, but then again who could properly imitate Brown’s iconic vocal abilities? What matters is it had me tapping my feet and just wanting to dance, and Boseman certainly has the moves.
Get On Up is, to me, this year’s The Butler. It’s a good movie filled with some good performances (only here it is the performance of Chadwick Boseman), but not likely to receive anything from the Academy. Tate Taylor directs the movie very well and some of the shots and musical pieces impressed me, but I don’t see anything the Academy will go for. At the most I can see Boseman’s take on the Godfather of Soul getting a Best Actor nod. It probably won’t happen, but at this point in the year, I wouldn’t be opposed to it. The movie doesn’t rank with the great biopics, but his performance alone makes it worth seeing.