A biopic with heart, laughter, and plenty of funk, "Get on Up" explores the many charming, touching, and sometimes downright ugly, facets of legendary singer James Brown.
Though quite enjoyable, at 138 minutes, this movie just feels too long for its own good. The story jumps back and forth between Brown's adult career and flashbacks to his childhood. Both stories are poignant and mostly entertaining, but presumably due to the filmmakers' interest in being thorough (and accurate), neither story follows a full arc or culminates with a real climax, leaving audience members looking at their watches around the 2 hour mark wondering if there is an end in sight. As with any biopic, the writers fought the inevitable challenge of not sinking into a drawn out research report, and only somewhat emerged victorious. Especially since the story stops short of the highly publicized and highly destructive years in the last decades of Brown's life.
But they did manage to receive the seal of approval from Brown's estate, so there's that.
Boseman's performance as James Brown is energetic and exciting. His portrayal of the already larger-than-life Brown often toes the "caricature" line, and it makes some scenes more fit for a sketch on Saturday Night Live. But that's who James Brown was, and the film eases over-the-top blows by transitioning most of those moments into fourth-wall-breaking asides spoken directly to the camera, giving Boseman a chance to do what he does best- charm the audience.
Director Tate Taylor does an especially good job of capturing the feel of the many locations along Brown's path. The concert hall scenes are a feast for the eyes and they transport you in time and place to performance venues around the world over several decades.
A notable performance is also given by the young actor who plays James Brown as a child, whose name this reviewer has yet to find in the current movie databases (which is a shame). He does a wonderful job playing some very heavy scenes.
When it comes to recommending this film, at the end of the day, I'm torn. The moments of the movie that I liked, I REALLY liked. But I can't say that I wasn't also reasonably antsy by the end. I hate to say it, but this film might be limiting its audience in its attempt to be a complete biography. What I saw should probably have been called the "director's cut" or the A&E version, which is a shame because it seems possible to edit together all those gems with a bit less sentimental hand and tell a story that younger (under 40) audiences will deem worth a trip to the theater.