The dog days of August isn’t usually when studios roll out their Oscar contenders. But critics who’ve gotten an early look at “Get On Up,” a biography of James Brown from “The Help’s” Tate Taylor, suggest that Chadwick Boseman’s performance as the Hardest Working Man in Show Business is one that voters should keep in mind at the end of the year. From its tag line — “Are you read to feel good?” — on down, Universal is selling “Get On Up” as a high-energy hoot rather than an artist-and-his-struggle biopic along the lines of “Ray,” but while the early reviews are not without their reservations, they agree the movie manages to pay ample tribute to Brown’s unparalleled skills as an entertainer while peeking behind the music as well.
Reviews of “Get On Up”
Scott Foundas, Variety
Perhaps it’s fitting that a movie on a subject as polymorphous as Brown never quite settles on a style or a tone. Rather than following standard chronological-biopic convention, the script by British playwright Jez Butterworth (“Jerusalem”) and his brother John-Henry splinters the narrative into a series of nonlinear fragments, hopscotching across Brown’s life like a rock skimming a turbulent stream. One minute it’s 1964 and Brown — then the lead singer of the Famous Flames — is upstaging the Rolling Stones at the recording of the seminal concert film “The T.A.M.I. Show.” Then, on a dime, it’s back to 1949 and the teenage Brown’s arrest on petty theft charges.
If you thought the recent “Jersey Boys” was stodgy and problematic, here’s a music movie that avoids that other film’s pitfalls: It places Brown (Chadwick Boseman, in an electrifying performance) into a specific cultural and political context, while also spelling out to a mass audience the musician’s innovations as a performer, artist, and businessman. At the same time, “Get on Up” never skids into puff-piece territory; the film shows us that Brown could be a devoted friend but also an insufferable egotist; a loving husband who could, in turn, be abusive to his wives; and a shrewd money manager who also found himself in debt after a series of misguided entrepreneurial decisions.
When “Get On Up” hints at the reasons why Brown behaved this way — for instance, he was abandoned by his parents and forced to live in his aunt’s brothel — the filmmakers don’t oversell their theories as some grand revelation. Instead, because “Get On Up” shifts across decades, pursuing thematic connections as opposed to biographical plot points, the movie feels like a meditation on Brown, not a definitive CliffsNotes on why he’s regarded as one of pop music’s most important artists.
Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter
In sync with its subject, director Tate Taylor’s movie, too, can be wearying, especially in the strenuously scrambled chronology of its early sequences. But under the guidance of producer Mick Jagger, it’s that rare musician’s biography with a deep feel for the music. And in Chadwick Boseman, it has a galvanic core, a performance that transcends impersonation and reverberates long after the screen goes dark.