The Genius of James Brown
The holy grail of all musical biopics is “Ray.”
In the film about the legendary R&B singer Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx solidified his position on the Mount Rushmore of thespians by not simply portraying the singer but by embodying the singer.
Like succeeding a legendary talent like Michael Jordan on the Chicago Bulls or Michael Jackson in The Jacksons, Chadwick Boseman inevitably will not be able to escape the comparisons to Foxx’s Oscar-winning role.
That fact is what makes Boseman’s portrayal of James Brown in “Get on Up” that much more impressive.
True Hollywood observers are aware of this budding star’s talent, but others have placed the bar so high in the biopic genre that many moviegoers have been skeptical about whether or not Boseman can pull this off.
Everyone involved in “Get on Up” from Boseman to director Tate Taylor to writers Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth not only pull off the near impossible, they knock the whole project out of the park by not sticking to the typical chronological biopic or the flashback biopic, but by telling a story in a way that a real person would tell their story; disjointed, emotional and sincere.
In many ways “Get on Up” is “Ray” with a whole lot of, as Keenan Ivory Wayans would say, dried up, buggar nose funk.
Both singers grew up in the segregated South in extreme poverty.
Charles’ life was not as dysfunctional as Brown’s but he had just as much to overcome to reach the pinnacle of musical success.
Both of their fathers left them at an early age and both of their mothers were absent for a large portion of their life but for very different reasons. Charles’ mother died when he was in school and Brown’s mother abandoned him and his father at an early age to escape abuse and the pressures of motherhood.
Both had to learn to take care of themselves at a young age and become self-sufficient. Charles’ independence was due to the fact that he was blind, while Brown had to fend for himself while living in a brothel and being raised by the Madame of the house, Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer).
Their rough and rocky road to stardom made them both musical and business geniuses. Brown revolutionized the job of the concert promoter and Charles was famous for owning his own studio and his own master recordings.
Both had their share of women and both had loyal friends that were down with them from the beginning. For Brown it was Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) and Charles had Jeff Brown (Clifton Powell).
But the one thing that Brown had that Charles did not was the funk and the funky footwork to go along with his musical genius.
Boseman powerfully embodies Brown. Everything from the voice to the makeup was superb. When one thinks they are actually watching the iconic figure in a biopic instead of the actor playing him, the player did his job.
The only thing that Boseman could not do as effortlessly was dance the way the Godfather of the Soul danced, but very few could.
“Get on Up” even takes a page from “Jersey Boys” by allowing Boseman to speak directly to the cameras as a narrator, telling his own story of how he influenced countless musicians and musical genres half a century later.
Despite the near masterpiece by Taylor, Boseman’s narration would have been smoother with voice over as opposed to speaking directly to the cameras.
Nevertheless, “Get on Up” should receive Academy Award consideration despite its summer release.
Although Boseman did a fine job in biopics like “42” and “The Express,” his portrayal as the hardest working man in show business in “Get On Up” will be the movie that puts him on the Hollywood map for good.
“Get on Up” is his Mona Lisa; his “Thriller;” his “Purple Rain” and his “The Genius of Ray Charles.”