Filling the shoes of the man of the hour is Chadwick Boseman. He has already proved his acting chops portraying baseball legend Jackie Robinson in the 2013 biopic “42.” He proves his acting ability again here, fully immersing himself into a performance that screams James Brown.
From the walk, mannerisms, to his speech, Boseman nails Brown on some many levels it’s absolutely frightening to watch. He hands down is the single reason the picture soars in my opinion, without Boseman’s performance the picture would falter on the narrative front.
The movie is told in flashbacks that jump from certain time periods. It can be a bit off putting for some spectators who are not familiar to seeing a film where there is a back and forth between what takes place. Its not fully disruptive to the narrative in my opinion. It’s a tale of explaining the impact of certain events/milestones in Brown’s life that have affected him as an adult.
In his early childhood, he is abandoned by his mother Susie (Viola Davis) who resurfaces in her sons’ life at the pinnacle of his career. He holds a deep amount of anger, almost hatred towards his mother for abandoning him in his time of need. He has that love/hate relationship with his mother, as well as his father. His upbringing was not picture perfect as some may have imagined.
That ultimately creates a stronger bond with his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer) who is the female highlight in the singer’s life. Spencer brings a sassiness and authenticity to a character who doesn’t allow James to feel down about his situation. She ultimately encourages him to go after what he is passionate about and it’s through his experiences with his aunt and the church that James finds his voice in music and dance.
Other standout performers in the film include Dan Aykroyd who portrays James’ manager Ben Bart. He looks the part, plays the part and could be called the singer’s closet confidante. Willing to tell him things he sometimes didn’t or wasn’t prepared to hear. He also has a close confidante in band mate Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) who becomes James’ friend after a prison brawl.
It’s interesting to see the movie highlight the fact that Brown had many run-ins with the law throughout his life; not just as a youth, but also as an adult. He was a trailblazer of sorts, paving the way for his success which he was certain would happen from a very early age.
“Get On Up” is not just a movie that celebrates the Godfather of Soul for the music that he gave to world, but examines his relationships with those closest to him. I never imagined in a million years Brown being a performer who was afraid of being upstaged, but that was a fear always meddling in the back of his mind. It’s polarizing to do a movie that examines just that notion, while celebrating the good, the bad and the ugly about a singer who has inspired so many musicians to try to name them all would be almost impossible.
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