Sunday, 24 May 2015

Get On Up

I love biopics. You may have seen my ‘Top 5 Biopics’ article I did – that was a struggle for me, as it’s one of my favourite genres. As a music fan at heart, I’m particularly fond of ones about musicians. They can be brilliant – Control, about Ian Curtis, and Walk the Line, about Johnny Cash, are absolutely brilliant films. But for every good one, you get a shit one. Jimi: All Is By My Side, the Hendrix biopic, was dreadful. As was The Doors, about, well…do I really need to say? So, which side does Get On Up join? 

Directed by Tate Taylor and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes Get On Up. The main thing to talk about, like with any biopic, is the lead performance. Chadwick Boseman is absolutely phenomenal as Brown. You may not have heard of him, but don’t worry, nobody in the UK really has! He’s only really done 1 major film before this, and it was a baseball film called 42 that had a very small audience here. But keep an eye on him. With this amazing performance now under his belt here and increasing exposure, and considering his upcoming role in Captain America: Civil War, he’s on the rise. In Get On Up, he absolutely nails Brown’s showmanship. His spot-on dancing and often uncanny resemblance really makes you feel like you’re watching James Brown play himself. It’s a career-defining performance, and so early in his career! It’ll be difficult to top this one.

So, the performance was amazing, but…that’s the only real good point about the film. My main problem with Get On Up was its timeline. It was trying to be stylish, but for me it was distracting and tedious. It starts off in 1988 with a crack-addicted old James Brown firing a shotgun at a business seminar because someone used his toilet. Yes...that happens. Then it flashes back to the Vietnam War, then back to the 1930s, then forward to the 60s, then the 50s, then the 70s. And throughout all this, James has other flashbacks scattered throughout. I get it, it was trying to be stylish and show all the key points in Brown’s life. But I feel like it would’ve worked better in a linear fashion – kind of like a ‘rags to riches’ structure, rather than riches to rags to riches to rags to riches to rags! This back-and-forth was unnecessary and irritating.

But at the end of the day, this film is really just a love-letter to Brown. While the film does occasionally show Brown’s bad side, it seems quite reluctant to do so. In one scene, Brown strikes his wife. But it, rather unusually, happens off screen. And whenever we see Brown being a bit of a shit, the filmmakers clearly felt bad about it because they’ll usually follow it up with a scene of him being a top bloke. Like recording a single with a bunch of kids, or giving poor children Christmas presents.

On the plus side though, the soundtrack was great. Well, if you like James Brown it was! Thankfully the film uses a lot of Brown’s original recordings, including all of the classics. The recent Hendrix biopic discussed in the introduction was unable to get the rights to any of Jimi’s music and suffered for that. Here, we have everything – Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Get Up Offa That Thing, I Feel Good, This is a Man’s World, and a handful of others all get nice exposure. The film’s soundtrack is effectively The Best of James Brown.

But even with a great performance and soundtrack, the film is nothing special on the whole. It was very well produced, with great costumes and era authenticity. But the dizzying narrative structure and generic cliché biopic DNA was rather in your face throughout. Have you ever seen Walk Hard, the biopic spoof? Get On Up has so much in it that Walk Hard took the piss out of so effectively, it made me think I was watching another spoof. It’s too generic for words. As I said before, the film is effectively just a love-letter to James Brown. Granted, he was an extremely influential pioneer in music. But I felt like this film’s core purpose was to ram that down our throats. For 2 and a half hours. It was a rather biased piece and didn’t show us enough of the aspects of Brown’s life I would’ve liked to have seen, such as his later years. So, in conclusion, if you’re a fan of James Brown, or music biopics in general, get on up and watch this film. If not? There’s nothing here to feeeeel good about.

Get On Up gets 3/5.


Sam Love

Get On Up at CeX

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