Get On Up

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Entertainment: +4

Content: +2

Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Craig Robinson, Octavia Spencer, Lennie James, Tika Sumpter and Jill Scott. Musical/drama. Written by Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth. Directed by Tate Taylor.

FILM SYNOPSIS: In his follow-up to the four-time Academy Award®-nominated blockbuster The Help, Tate Taylor directs 42’s Chadwick Boseman as James Brown in Get on Up.  Based on the incredible life story of the Godfather of Soul, the film gives a fearless look inside the music, moves and moods of Brown, taking audiences on the journey from his impoverished childhood to his evolution into one of the most influential figures of the 20th century.

PREVIEW REVIEW: First off, this is how to make a musical biography. Clint Eastwood should have seen this one before he attempted the life of Frankie Valli. But then again, and meaning no disrespect to Frankie Valli, but really, a movie about Frankie Valli! A good performer, but who would put him in the same league as Frank Sinatra, Elvis, or Little Richard?

Director Tate Taylor managed to hit every high note with this true homage to the Godfather of Soul. Indeed, with the aid of a tremendous supporting cast (difficult to spotlight one over the other), and a solid script that gives enough pieces for us to put the puzzle of Brown’s life together, this film becomes a soulful tribute to music and a legendary performer.

The film is a bit rough on us Whites, using brushstrokes that paint us as cartoons, leaving viewers with the concept that we are all either bigoted or unable to grasp the true soul of song and dance. But as I write that sentence, I’m reminded that it was a time when, generally, Whites weren’t all that conscious or caring about the rights of Blacks. Some will say we still have some evolving to go. As for our lack of soul when it comes to music, well, this film is about James Brown, not Frank Sinatra. So, naturally, the lead is going to be given the spotlight and it will be his gift that sets us all straight. Had the film been about Mozart, or Crosby, we would have seen and heard their contributions to the world of music, seeing them as the musical artists who had topped the mountain.

As I have always been a fan of Etta James, James Brown and Billie Holiday, I have to admit there is a potent element in black music not found in other musical genres. But then, I dare you to top Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” See, it kind of depends on which mountain peak you’re standing on.

According to this production, Mr. Brown had to overcome the abandonment of both parents and the segregation prevalent in the South of the 1930s. He had a huge ego (based on a formidable musical talent and an insightful sense of business). He could be generous and he could be self-indulgent. But the film, and actor Chadwick Boseman, give us a taste of the true James Brown, a musician with a lasting impact on future performers.

I was a bit frustrated that the film didn’t deal much with the singer’s spiritual growth. Although he struggled with his demons, he was also a man who acknowledged God. I was glad, however, that the film avoided any misuse of God’s name or Christ’s. The film shows Brown drinking Coca-Cola and avoiding drug use until the loss of his son. It is implied that his son’s death led to the spiraling downfall in his personal life. Is this true?

Many may find the script’s sketchy nature a bit formulaic, but I felt the production gave a true flavor of Brown’s character, leaving us with several examples of his great gift, a joyous songbook that makes you feel good.

Though my favs in the world of music tend more toward Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis, still, whenever a James Brown song comes on, I have to stay for the whole song, mesmerized the entire time. What a talent.

Truly, one of the best films of the year!

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: None

Obscene Language: Around 20 obscenities, mostly the s-word; the N-word is use three times, once by a white woman and twice by the black lead.

Profanity: I caught no misuse of God’s name.

Violence: We learn of Martin Luther King’s slaying; an abusive man points a gun at his wife and hits his 10-year-old boy; the lead hits his wife, this scene was powerful and disturbing; we learn of the death of one of Mr. Brown’s children; hopped up on something Brown threatens people with a shotgun; again, drugged up, Brown has a car chase with the police, the cops firing at his car.

Sex: A couple of sexual situations, but brief but somewhat graphic; any other sexual conduct is implied; it is implied that Brown’s mother becomes a prostitute; Brown as a boy goes to live at a bordello and for a while is paid to lure men into the cathouse.

Nudity: None

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: None

Drugs: Most of the characters smoke, as was the custom of the time; the lead is only seen with drugs after his son is killed.

Other: None

Running Time: 138 minutes
Intended Audience: Older teens and up

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