Thanks a lot SNL. I’m watching a deep movie about a complex human being and because of you all I can think of is “celebrity hot tub”.
“Get on Up” stars Chadwick Boseman as the iconic soul singer James Brown. Tate Taylor, who also directed “The Help” helms the ship steering us toward a better understanding of the complexities and quirks of the man who would become “The Godfather of Soul”. Yet, for a movie about a man with so much life and energy why did I feel like I left the theater drained of mine?
Now don’t get me wrong, Boseman is great in this, and certainly proves that his amazing performance last year as Jackie Robinson in “42” wasn’t just a fluke. His take on James Brown is full of quirkiness, boldness, and risk. But where he really shines is in the performance scenes. As soon as we hit that first concert, Boseman becomes James Brown, the charisma, the voice, and most importantly those trademark gliding moves across the stage. It’s captivating and full of so much life, which makes it all the more frustrating when he steps off the stage and the movie falls into some sort of lifeless lull.
There are many reasons I think this happens, and primary among them is structure. The movie is full of these often confusing time jumps that leave us dragging behind the development of this character. A great story will use time to give us information right when we need it, but here we seem to get information we don’t need yet, or information we could have used much earlier through these time cuts. If the movie is purposefully using these jumps to disorient us as some sort of symbolic show of James Brown’s own fractured past, well fine, but when you sacrifice good storytelling for metaphor you lose a lot of the power. The film also take liberal use of breaking the fourth wall, by having James Brown talk directly to the audience throughout. Again, I’m assuming this was an artistic choice to emphasize Brown’s state of mind, but it just didn’t work for me, further taking me out of a movie I was having trouble connecting to anyway. And that’s the worst thing about “Get on Up”, it just doesn’t connect to it’s emotion in any meaningful way. Sure we see the details of this man’s past, and the impact of his decisions, but to what purpose? The movie doesn’t really feel like it has anything to say about his place or what greater meaning it may or may not have. The result is that any story emotion simply dissipates because there is no purpose for which it can find purchase, leaving the emotion feeling completely disconnected and scattered.
Overall, “Get on Up” just doesn’t connect. Even with another stand out turn by Chadwick Boseman, and some captivating concert performances, there just isn’t enough cohesive purpose to get this movie on up past a C+