“Mr. Dynamite”, “The Godfather of Soul”, “The Hardest Working Man In Show Business” only described one entertainer…the incomparable, irreplaceable James Brown. Who doesn’t remember that parody of him done by Eddie Murphy on “Saturday Night Live” complete with horn section and that famous pompadour hairdo?
You couldn’t turn a radio on in cities across the nation in the 60’s and 70’s without hearing that famous squeal yelling “I’m Black and I’m Proud”, Get On Up” or “The Big Payback – Side 1 & 2”. A scene depicted in the movie recreating a performance at the “world famous” Apollo Theatre is remembered well by my Mom, who was there that night and walked out on 125th to see Malcolm X on a box preaching down the street. Man, those were the good old days.
Get On Up whips us into a hurricane of the musical career of James Brown and what a ride it is! Chadwick Boseman is electrifying in the title role taking on the very embodiment of the “Godfather of Soul”. For someone who had never danced before, Boseman does a tremendous job at Brown’s signature slides and splits. He was so convincing, that one would’ve thought he may have actually been doing the singing (alas he was lip-syncing to Brown’s tracks).
Viola Davis just can’t seem to turn in a bad performance – EVER!!! One of the most touching and memorable moments in the film are the scenes with her and Boseman as a young James Brown and later as an adult after his infamous Apollo performance. There are brief cameo appearances by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Jill Scott, Dan Akroyd, Aunjanue Ellis, Craig Robinson and Tika Sumpter, but I feel as though their characters were not fully flushed out or those scenes were left on the cutting room floor.
As a whole, I enjoyed learning some things I didn’t know about Brown’s upbringing in Augusta, GA, but was not surprised about most things that plagued most artists of superstar status such as drugs, money and domestic issues. I was particularly moved by the recreation of the Boston concert the night Dr. Martin Luther King was slain and the recording session with little children for “I’m Black and I’m Proud”.
The film in its final edited stages felt very disjointed in the storytelling of flipping back and forth between Brown’s early years, years that focused on the musical career highlights and years in which he is clearly a little older, but still pulling a crowd
James Brown was an entertainer that instilled and inspired the African-American culture for centuries to be proud of their heritage and wear it like a “badge of honor”. He never backed down in his personal or professional life, even when there were some that accused him of “selling out” — he kept it moving with a smile of pride and confidence. Brown is single-handedly responsible for the dance moves and/or careers of such musical heavy weights as Mick Jagger (who was also Executive Producer of this film), Usher, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and the the list goes on… It was a pleasure to know that now a whole new generation will learn of his sacrifice in being one of the first.
If you love James Brown, you will enjoy listening to his hits and watching Chadwick Boseman bring him back to life if only for a little while. Get On Up is in theaters now.