5 August 2014 | swellframe17
James Brown gets the music biopic treatment.
James Brown was a unique musician. He was the Godfather of Soul and inspired many musicians. He had hits like "Get Up Offa That Thing" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Tate Taylor (who did a wonderful job adapting "The Help") takes on Brown's story in "Get On Up" and tries to cram almost all of Brown's life story in a little over 2 hours. Taylor tries to make the film as bold and sporadic as Brown was by jumping around in time and breaking the fourth wall, but I don't think it worked.
In the first 15 minutes, we jump around to 3 different time periods, but it doesn't feel like it has much purpose for the juxtaposition of these time lines. We have to follow all these different story lines that don't always connect. A character says he's leaving Brown in one scene and by the next scene, the character is with Brown again like nothing happened. The lack of chronological flow makes it harder to appreciate what Brown did for his time, like the concert after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death. It can be confusing and I think it could have stronger moments if it was done chronologically. The film didn't hook me within the first half hour and all the jumping around in time made the film feel never ending.
The breaking of the fourth wall isn't used consistently and well enough to make it useful. It took a long time for the film to establish that breaking the fourth wall was going to be apart of the film. I think it's better when a film starts with breaking the fourth wall instead of waiting 20 minutes to introduce it. It seemed like Taylor was trying to be like Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" or Woody Allen's "Annie Hall," but I don't think it worked as well with "Get On Up." I admire how the film was trying to break the music biopic formula. However, I don't think it did it well.
"Get On Up" does have interesting juxtapositions when it merges Brown's older life with his younger self, but Brown is the only one we get to focus on and learn anything about. There is a large cast that surrounds him with great actors like Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. These actors do the best they can, but the film doesn't give them enough time and they feel flat and one-dimensional. It's hard to connect with any of the supporting characters and Brown is a narcissistic jerk that you don't really want to connect with. Chadwick Boseman does a really good job showing all of Brown's charms and flaws, but everything around his performance feels weak.
Taylor's "Get On Up" tries to be a lot of different things, but it doesn't juggle them well. Brown went through so much in his life that it may have been better to focus on one of these important moments than to throw them all together. What we get is a slow moving and messy film that doesn't always add up to what it could have been. The film ends strongly with a montage that sums up Brown well and a song, but the two hours we go through to get there doesn't feel worth it.