'Get on Up' for the Godfather of Soul
Get on Up is based on the story of James Brown’s rise from nowhere, Georgia to become the Godfather of Soul. While not a straight up biography, the film focuses on the music in Brown’s life while only brushing a lot of detail. Fans of James Brown will love the musical approach, but it begs the question, “Is music all James Brown was and is that enough?”
Brown’s home life was abusive, dysfunctional and scary. In the deep South during the late 1930s and early 1940s, lynchings were not uncommon. In the movie, Brown happens upon a victim and steals his shoes. The only affect that this has on him is they are the same shoes he wears several years later when he winds up in prison as a 17 year old for “robbing a suit” (stealing a suit).
Lennie James does a good job as the abusive Joe Brown. His character could have had the opportunity of being two-dimensional, but Lennie does a good job of making sure that the James’ father is not a monster but a product of living conditions and times.
Race issues are only touched upon throughout the film. While James Brown started gaining fame as the civil rights movement was rising, it seems to have little effect on Brown himself. Whether it was because he focused on “doing right by himself” or because he was focused on the music, Martin Luther King’s shooting is a mere footnote. The white people are won over by the pulse of Brown’s unique rhythm, and even the “White Devil” caves to Brown’s personality.
Chadwick Boseman does a great job imitating the affectations of James Brown. It is a little disconcerting that he was directed to address the camera directly and break the fourth wall. It is effective if a little jarring the first time that the technique is employed.
Again, the focus is on the music. It keeps coming back to the music. There are long sequences of singing and dancing in various areas with the rest of the story taking a backseat. The story is told non-sequentially as if in stream of consciousness, but it seems as if the story of the man James Brown was neglected for the story of the fame of James Brown. A decent film, Get on Up, deserves a view for as much as James Brown was a pioneer as he was a legend.