Biopics can be a hard type of film to make, specifically in the writing department. Often, the idea to make a film about some famous person requires molding their real-life experiences into some sort of cohesive narrative, when in actuality real-life events often aren’t so easily encapsulated in a two-hour film. That isn’t to say that it can’t be done, as there have been plenty of great biopics, but that seems to be the inherent difficulty that Get On Up never manages to overcome. The life of James Brown is rife with drama and conflict, but this film seems to try and force its audience to accept one narrative of Brown’s troubled life while obligingly only mentioning some of the things that may have had the biggest impact on him. On top of that, the narrative the film is trying to convey seems confused on whether it wants to glorify James Brown’s greatness or act as an excuse for his less reputable behavior.
The film’s biggest stumbling blocks seem to come from its insistence on telling the story achronistically, shifting between points in Brown’s adult life to his childhood with little-to-no transition, operating under the illusion of artistry. As the narrative becomes more chronological as the film goes on, it starts to become clear that the film is trying to use those moments to demonstrate that James Brown acts out because of his childhood abandonment issues and he never had the chance to fully mature as an adult. However, the film fails to connect those dots until a scene at the very end, leaving every transition a disjointed mess that only becomes coherent through analysis of the screenwriters’ intentions, which makes for some sloppy writing.
The narrative also quite casually brushes over key aspects of James Brown’s life in order to keep on track with its own confused story, all but ignoring Brown’s tendency toward domestic violence (with the exceptions quickly forgotten amongst all the hero worship), the death of his son, and, perhaps most important, his persistent and chronic drug habits, all of which were likely causes of his controlling and egomaniacal behavior. When the film ignores those factors, Brown’s character seems to lash out at people for no reason other than being an asshole, making the parts where the film tries to justify him as a creative genius feel all the more disingenuous.
To give credit where credit is due, Chadwick Boseman pulls off a masterful James Brown impression, and he manages to make some of the film’s more dramatic scenes really pull together. However, no matter how well that performance or those scenes work in isolation, the connecting tissue of this film is thin, flimsy, and confusingly compiled. Get On Up is not worth your time, even if you are a fan of the Godfather of Funk.
James Brown. How do you feel about the man? The music? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.