Monday, August 11, 2014

[Review] Get On Up

The problem with a lot of music biopics is that it's inherently difficult to recreate a real human's musical endeavors on screen without it coming off as maudlin, inauthentic, and forced. And with that idealized portrayal comes more of a fragmented series of episodic events, rather than a solid story arc. And if there is an arc, it's usually an overly familiar one, no matter who the artist is. It leaves you with the feeling that you'd rather just watch a documentary or a Behind The Music on the subject. Get On Up, a James Brown ode, falls into the same line. But the bright side is that Chadwick Boseman's electric performance as the Godfather of Soul keeps this thing moving.

In a similar fashion to 2013's Saving Mr. Banks, the narrative in Get On Up flashes back and forth between James Brown's rough, abandon-heavy childhood and his days in the spotlight. Viola Davis plays Brown's mother, disappearing from his early life, but re-emerging during his stardom. For better and for worse, the childhood events inform James Brown the human, as well as James Brown the musical icon. The film details the front stage and back stage, from Brown's innovative soul stylings and spirited live shows--to his darker bouts with the law and domestic abuse.

At first, Boseman's impersonation of the singer appears cartoony and exaggerated, but a gander at some old James Brown interviews reveals that the intonations and mannerisms aren't too far off. The part calls for a wide range of emotion and a significant passage of age, and Boseman indicatively answers on all levels. (I mean, he doesn't actually age, but you know what I'm saying.) The man goes all-out in this role, and he's definitely got the funky, energetic dance moves down. He not only steals every scene, but he also sets them on fire and revels in the heat.


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