“Get On Up:” James Brown’s life story, sort of

This non-chronological bio-pic is well-acted and worth seeing but a bit confusing.

Director Tate Taylor attempts to go the distance in telling the story of a complex man who became the Godfather of Soul. This story of James Brown‘s life ranges from his childhood in the remote woods of Augusta, Ga., where his father was abusive and his mother abandoned him, to his upbringing in a brothel after his father left him, to his incarceration for stealing a suit, to his stardom and eventual eccentricity that had people questioning his sanity.

Unfortunately, the story is not told in any distinctive order, which can be confusing at times.

The film sets sail on the 73-year voyage of Brown’s life with a snippet of a scene of Brown shooting up his own establishment because a woman used his toilet. Then, it goes into his childhood and bounces back and forth throughout to scenes of his trip to Vietnam, his rise to fame through the gospel scene, his childhood and super stardom. The one constant throughout, with the exception of his young childhood, is the presence of his best friend and sidekick for most of his career, Bobby Byrd.

The most amazing characteristic of the film is the chemistry between Brown (Chadwick Boseman) and Byrd (Nelsan Ellis). Boseman emulates Brown with an energy that translates to the screen in a way that would only be fitting for the Godfather himself. Ellis matches that with a calmness that is fitting for a sidekick with a big personality. Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer also have standout performances as supporting characters that were both vital and brief in Brown’s life.

The only real qualms I had with the film were the questions I had in between the bouncing back and forth from scene to scene. There are many themes, ideas and characters that are introduced and never concluded, which left me wondering what the story would be like if it were simply told chronologically. Also, there are a handful of times where Boseman speaks directly to the audience, which is both jarring unnecessary. The story is strong on its own and probably didn’t need to be told in a non-traditional fashion, but Get On Up is worth seeing.

 

 

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