Renting at the Reels: The king of funk

By: Kaitlyn McKay, Columnist

Released over the summer, “Get On Up” follows the journey of legendary singer James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) from poverty to becoming one of the most influential singers in music history.

The movie is told in a non-linear structure, jumping around different points in Brown’s life. In the opening scene, set in 1988, he is introduced by firing a rifle in one of his own office buildings as he is demanding to know who used his private bathroom. The film flashbacks even further to 1968, a high point in Brown’s career where he sings for American soldiers in Vietnam. In those first ten minutes, the movie shows exactly the kind of character Brown is: a risk-taker, arrogant, extremely confident and perhaps above all else, full of an energy and passion that one can’t help buy envy.

Boseman gives a perfect, over-the-top performance as James Brown. The film belongs to Boseman, and is worth seeing at least solely to see his performance as the Godfather of Soul. Other great performances include Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, Brown’s best friend and Viola Davis in a small role as Brown’s mother, Susie Brown.

Along with Boseman’s performance, the best part of the film is how Brown is presented. The film is very much aware that Brown is not a saint, and does not try to make excuses for his behavior. He ruins his 50-plus year friendship with Bobby Byrd, abuses his wife and fires his orchestra when they demand to be paid. The audience is allowed to make their own conclusions about Brown.

There are some things that are quickly mentioned or briefly shown that are not developed as well as they could have been. Brown marries his first wife off screen and the audience is never introduced to her, we also only briefly see Brown’s second wife Dee-Dee (Jill Scott) before she is abused. His real life third and fourth wives are not even mentioned. His domestic abuse is shown in two scenes, and Dee-Dee is not mentioned or seen again in the movie after her second scene of domestic abuse. This is one of the many aspects of Brown’s life that is briefly mentioned, like his tax troubles, or omitted altogether, like his drug abuse.

With any biopic or historical fiction movie, how “good” an audience will find a film depends on how much they value historical accuracy. Without taking any consideration into whether or not the film is historically accurate, the film is good on its own. Others, especially those very familiar with Brown, might find his life to be over simplified and consider the PG-13 film a sanitized version of his life. In my personal opinion, “Get On Up” did the best that it could to compress a man’s 50 year long career into two hours and seventeen minutes. The result paid off in an evenly balanced film about a complicated man and his incredibly successful career. “Get On Up” is a great film and it is worth a look.

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