Tuesday, July 29, 2014

'Get On Up' review

James Brown was obviously one of the most influential musicians in history. His songs inspired a whole generation of superstars and shaped the hip-hop/R&B world that we know today. The Godfather of Soul deserves a good movie. Get On Up is not that movie. It's an incredibly messy film that jumps around James Brown's life like a person on drugs in a time machine and never even attempts to make the story cohesive. Chadwick Boseman is absolutely terrific, but even he can't save this thing. It's a film without focus and it's a bland and dull one as well. I was really looking forward to this film and I have to say that it was one of the year's biggest letdowns.

Get On Up is the story of James Brown (I think) and his meteoric rise and his downfall into drug-fueled paranoia. James starts out as a young boy in Augusta, Georgia. He lives with his abusive father and his kind mother (Viola Davis), who leaves him when he's quite young. James' father joins the army and drops him off at a brothel run by his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer). He works there for a while, then ends up in jail. However, a gospel group led by Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) comes to visit one day and Byrd immediately recognizes Brown's talent. His family adopts him and then he becomes a superstar.

Sometimes looks can be deceiving. When I saw the previews and commercials, Get On Up looked like a relatively conventional musical biopic. You would get to see Brown's childhood, his big break, his meteoric rise, the epic fall and then the redeeming moment. Get On Up hits all of these beats, but mixes them all up. It starts in 1988 before jumping back to 1968 before jumping back to 1939 then moving forward to 1955 and it just goes on and on from there. Something will happen and then the film will jump forward to something else and then the movie will jump back to that other thing and it all just makes no sense. The film's jumbled style is audacious and interesting, but it doesn't work at all. I was very excited for Get On Up, but its attempt to do something different just falls flat.

Chadwick Boseman is the best thing about this movie by a long shot. His energetic, charismatic performance is absolutely fantastic and I would not mind at all if he was nominated for an Oscar. He brings a swagger to the role that is quite impressive and he carries several scenes throughout the movie. Boseman even manages to dominate some of the emotional beats that the script doesn't really warrant. It's a star-making performance for him after his relatively subtle turn as Jackie Robinson in last year and I really think that this movie will make him a star.

The rest of the cast is serviceable, but they are completely overpowered by Boseman. Viola Davis gives the strongest performance as Brown's mother. She has a great emotional scene with Boseman in the end, but she only appears in the movie for about ten minutes. Nelsan Ellis is okay as Bobby Byrd, but he never truly gets his chance to shine. And Octavia Spencer has what is essentially a one-scene cameo in this movie. She barely makes a dent.

The film also has a decent rhythm at times and some scenes have a strong funky spirit. The music is terrific and the performance scenes are entertaining. And most of the time, Boseman is the reason why the scenes work. I don't know if he actually did his own singing, but if he did, that's quite incredible. The performance scenes are exciting and dynamic, which is quite different from the rest of the film. They occasionally bring the film to life.

But just about every time I thought that this movie was going to stay on the right track and be entertaining, it ended up jumping around Brown's life again and the movie becomes a scrambled mess. Imagine Pulp Fiction as a biopic and you would get this movie. The only difference between the two is that the jumbled chronology works in Pulp Fiction. It doesn't work in Get On Up. I don't understand why the filmmakers felt that changing around the order of the story would work. It just messes the movie up.

Also, for a film about James Brown, this is an incredibly bland film. Boseman brings the energy every once in a while, but most of the time, this movie is just not that entertaining. It's just a forced, tired biopic that decided to mess up the order of the story. I really wanted this film to be good, but it just wasn't.

Get On Up is a PG-13 movie. James Brown did not live a PG-13 life. This movie waters down so many things throughout the story. Brown beat his wife, smoked crack and was just a terrible person at times in general. Get On Up gives you little hints of those things throughout the story, but director Tate Taylor tries to avoid all of Brown's issues completely and it really hurts the film.

When it comes down to it, Get On Up is one of the biggest disappointments of 2014. It's a bland, stale, borderline incomprehensible biopic that thinks it's a lot smarter than it is. Chadwick Boseman is terrific, but the idiotic, jumbled story tries way too hard to be innovative when it is simply another biopic that switched up its story. Simply a mess.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.5/10)

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