Get on Up

Well, the music was great. I can’t say the same about this disappointing biopic.

I saw Get on Up yesterday afternoon with my friend Dave. Over our 10+ year friendship, I estimate we’ve seen over 200 films together and tend to agree, to at least some degree, on most of them. However, we had opposite reactions to this one. He loved it so much that he thought I was joking when I gave him my opinion. When it comes to movies, I see what I want and avoid what I don’t, despite any and all reviews, and I encourage you to do the same.

I’m not sure whether it’s fair to compare Get on Up to Ray, but it’s almost impossible not to. James Brown and Ray Charles were contemporaries (Brown 1933 – 2006, Charles 1930 – 2004). They both overcame troubled childhoods in the Great Depression, grew up in the Jim Crow south, and both rose to mega-stardom but struggled with relationships and substance abuse. Both films were full of their amazing music, and both films had incredibly strong casts. Unfortunately, Tate Taylor’s direction does not measure up to that of Taylor Hackford.

One of the least successful techniques exhibited in Get on Up was breaking the fourth wall. This can be used to great effect in the right hands, but in my opinion, it was a mistake in Get on Up. The film also struggled to find authentic emotion, even in scenes that would seem to have the most tear-jerking potential. The impression I got was that the filmmakers didn’t want to avoid their subject’s negative personality traits and actions altogether, but were unwilling to explore the psychology of said traits and actions, except in the most perfunctory fashion. Every time Brown’s behavior was particularly disturbing, there would be a flashback to his lousy childhood or a look into camera…and then came another song.

I will say that Chadwick Boseman’s performance as James Brown was exceptional, despite Taylor’s missteps. The lip-syncing was some of the strongest I’ve ever seen and his dancing was incredible. The entire cast was strong, and it goes without saying that the soundtrack was a treat for any James Brown fan.




4 thoughts on “Get on Up

  1. Good review. I’ve been wanting to see this, since I’ve always liked James Brown’s music. I saw him once at the Fillmore, and it was a very exciting show. Now—to reveal my ignorance—what is the fourth wall?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Breaking the fourth wall is when an actor looks directly into camera or, in the case of live theater, into the audience. It’s not typically done, as it makes the character aware that he or she is being observed, as opposed to existing only in the story being portrayed.


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