'Get On Up': What the Critics Are Saying

5:30 AM PST 08/01/2014 by Ian Servantes

Chadwick Boseman stars as James Brown in 'The Help' director Tate Taylor's biopic, produced by Mick Jagger.

The godfather hits theaters this weekend — of soul, that is.

Chadwick Boseman stars as James Brown in The Help director Tate Taylor's biopic, which covers most of the life of the controversial R&B superstar. Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment produced the $30 million film with Mick Jagger; Universal is handling the release, which is expected to open in the low teens.

STORY Mick Jagger & Chadwick Boseman Talk 'Get On Up,' James Brown and a Rolling Stones Biopic

Read what the critics are saying about Get On Up

The Hollywood Reporter's film critic Sheri Linden says in her review that the film is "that rare musician's biography with a deep feel for the music. And in Boseman, it has a galvanic core, a performance that transcends impersonation and reverberates long after the screen goes dark. ... Working from a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, Taylor aims, admirably if not always successful, to break or at least shake up the conventional biopic mold."

She continues, "A couple of crucial deaths in the story have no dramatic impact because, although a few key relationships are sharply etched as the story jumps back and forth through the decades, it's the music that propels the action. ... The story's emotional nucleus, beyond Brown's drive to perform, is his musical association with singer Bobby Byrd. Imbuing the part with a grounded warmth, True Blood's Nelsan Ellis is superb, the yin to Boseman's yang. ... Grasping the essence of a larger-than-life story with imagination and energy, Get On Up doesn't quite succeed at shedding the biopic template, but it finds its own beat as it tries."

The New York Times' Stephen Holden says the movie "thrillingly captures the frenzy of Brown's music, and the forces driving that frenzy, both musical and personal. Like its gyrating, spasmodic staccato beats, Get On Up refuses to stand still. It whirls and does splits and jumps, with leaps around in time and changes in tempo that are jarring and abrupt and that usually feel just right."

VIDEO Mick Jagger and Brian Grazer Praise James Brown, 'Get on Up' Featurette

Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan didn't like the structure, however: "Despite the linked advantages of generous helpings of the man's high octane music and a star performance by Boseman that's little short of heroic, Get On Up is more frustrating than fulfilling, a disjointed film that suffers from having a more ambitious plan than it's got the ability to execute." He continues, "It's possible the Get On Up team thought this narrative chaos was a way to convey how perplexing and confounding a personality Brown was. ... But, when combined with Taylor's lack of subtlety and instinct for the obvious, that lack of focus eliminates narrative drive and coherence, distancing us from an already dicey story and robbing us of whatever potential the tale has to get us to empathize with its difficult protagonist." 

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips gave Get On Up three-and-a-half stars, saying, "What Taylor achieves in his James Brown story works as inventive showbiz mythology, without sucking up to its subject in a hagiographical way. The results may go easy on the depiction of Mr. Dynamite's drug use and numerous allegations of domestic violence. But the script — the reason the movie works in the first place — puts the audience in the position of sorting through Brown's harsh childhood circumstances and how they pushed the man into fashioning and then maintaining his own fearsome funk legend. ... Get On Up is better than inspirational; like the fascinating 1992 stage biography of Jelly Roll Morton, Jelly's Last Jam, it's a project that cares less about the facts than it does about finding the truthful emotional extremes inside a difficult American life, suffused with music." 

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Boston Globe's Ty Burr calls the film a "triumph — a messy, qualified triumph that even at 138 minutes makes an incomplete case for Brown's meaning to American life and culture, but a triumph nevertheless. The filmmakers seem to understand that they don't have to sell this African-American story to mainstream audiences the way Jackie Robinson once had to win over a nation of white baseball fans. ... What Get On Up understands but can't quite bring itself to say is that this music looks forward to the future, to our now-dominant hip-hop culture, and as far, far back into the past. Pulling them together with all his might is one man with a processed hairdo and a big, nasty smile." 

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