Get On Up is all over the place. It wants to be a movie like 24 Hour Party People (2002) – the kind of music history film where anything can happen: characters talk to the camera, the chronology jumps back and forth, actual footage gets cut into the re-enactments. Unfortunately, it ends up more like 32 Short Films about JAMES BROWN – a series of vignettes that don’t add up to a story.
Some of these vignettes are very good – Maceo Parker leading a band rebellion against JAMES BROWN, The Famous Flames upstaging Little Richard by performing Louis Jordan classic Caldonia, JAMES BROWN’s come to Jesus moment when he first wanders into a gospel revival. Then there are the other scenes – young JAMES BROWN steals the shoes off a lynching victim. Fine, but it doesn’t go anywhere – he never wears the shoes, sells them, or gets punished for stealing them, so why bother putting it in the movie?
And then there are the missing scenes: where did JAMES BROWN learn to dance? Where did the Gospel Starlighters pick up their moves before they became the Famous Flames? And for that matter, where did the FUNK come from? JAMES BROWN revolutionized music with his syncopated beat and bizarre time signatures, but the movie never shows how he developed his unique sound. Cutting from a brutal ‘battle royale’ kid boxing match to a funk band is a neat trick, but are they really suggesting JAMES BROWN invented the FUNK after getting hit in the head too many times?
Chadwick Boseman ‘brings it’ as JAMES BROWN, and Brandon Smith camps it up as Little Richard. I’m not sure what Dan Aykroyd is doing in the movie, except he was a Blues Brother, so there’s that. Octavia Spencer continues her run of excellent performances (Fruitvale Station! Snowpiercer!) as a madame/surrogate mother figure for JAMES BROWN. The cast is good all around, my only issue is with director Tate Taylor and the assortment of writers for not bringing the new new super heavy funk in the way that a JAMES BROWN movie deserves.
Overall Score: 67
Letter Grade: B-