"Sing It Loud and Funky"
GET ON UP is an entertaining biography about Mr. James Brown, the legendary Godfather of Soul. In this nonlinear telling of his life and rise to fame, the story weaves between Brown’s past and his present.
As a six year-old boy, James and his family is very poor living deep in the woods of South Carolina. His mom leaves him and/or is forced to leave James with his father, who’s verbally and physically abusive to both James and his mother. She leaves to work at a local brothel and doesn’t return. When James’s father enlists in the military, he asks his sister, Honey, to look after him. Honey agrees and does take of him, but she has him work as her word-of-mouth advertiser and recruiter of male clientele for her successful prostitution business. One day while canvassing for clients, he goes into a church where the preacher is charismatic and is shouting, dancing, preaching, and giving God praise as he and the congregation have a high-spirited time in their worship. James is drawn to the music and watches captivated as the preacher goes down on his knees as he preaches and praises.
One of Brown’s mottos in GET ON UP is to take those trials, adversities or things not in your favor and flip them to make them work for you. In another flashback, James has another experience that helps to set the course of his life. He is 17 and running from the police for stealing a suit. While in jail, Bobby Byrd and his gospel group come to sing. James is drawn to the music. Then, a disgruntled inmate makes a comment to James, James strikes first, and fights breakout throughout the audience of inmates. Bobby and James both end up in the infirmary.
When Bobby hears James soulful rendition of a song, he pleads with his mom to bring James into her custody. When she does, they rehearse gospel and perform gospel music exclusively. Then, James invites himself on the stage of a local venue after a performance by budding local talent, Little Richard. James introduces them as the Famous Flames, and the group goes along, with some reluctance initially about compromising their gospel music roots. The Famous Flames grow popular, and James comes up with some hit songs as lead vocalist for the talented group.
Eventually in GET ON UP, the Famous Flames get the attention of a major recording label. However, the agent/manager, Ben Bart, tells the group that the record producers don’t need the Famous Flames, just James Brown. Having some business savvy of his own, James finds a way to keep the group together, but they now work for him.
As Brown’s fame grows, his mother comes to see him after a concert. He tells her that nobody helped him, he helped himself. So, he disowns her the way she disowned him many years ago. He does give her $100 and respectfully tells her to leave. However, he tells Bobby to make sure she’s financially provided for and her needs are met.
James continues to be innovative in funk, soul, and R&B music recording hit after hit but as his passion for the music and success grow, so does his ego, which often goes unchecked until he loses bands, friends and family. He divorces his first wife and marries Dee Dee Brown, but becomes abusive toward her at times. Eventually, drugs, ego and domestic violence land him in jail again.
When he gets out, he returns to the music and stage that he knows and gives a heartfelt rendition of the Famous Flames’ song, “Try Me,” to open the show. Years later, in 2006, James Brown dies, and crowds of people line up outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem to pay homage to the musical icon.
The music and acting in GET ON UP are the standouts here. The production quality is excellent. James Brown’s timeless and innovative music is played throughout the story. Chadwick Boseman gives an energetic and believable performance as James Brown. He also does outstanding renditions of classic James Brown choreography. Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd gives a strong performance as supporting actor. The story is told in a nonlinear fashion, and as the story flashes back and forward, dates are shown to give clarity and help the story move forward. Often James Brown himself speaks directly to the camera. At most points, it’s comedic, at other times, the narrative takes a serious tone. As, for example when he has slapped Dee Dee in a rage over her costume showing too much cleavage. He simply looks at the camera and says nothing.
Extreme caution is advised, however, because of some strong sexual content, a significant amount of foul language and adult themes. Thus, the worldview is mixed.
For example, there are strong moral elements when James has to face the consequences of his actions, such as his bands quitting and going to jail for stealing. During the 1960s, a time of great civil unrest between blacks and whites, James uses his music to bring unity and a positive sense of self-identity to blacks by teaching African American children his song’s refrain: “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” Also, when Dr. Martin Luther King is killed, he convinces the city of Boston not to cancel his concert because of a fear of rioting. James calms down the rowdy crowd, getting them to stop jumping onstage and provoking some police officers with billy clubs and dogs.
GET ON UP also has some strong Christian elements, with positive references to God and Jesus, mercy being extolled, racism being rebuked, and scenes of James enjoying a church service and, later, gospel music while in jail as a young man. James gets his style of singing and dancing from watching the charismatic pastor. Also, his career starts in gospel music before moving on to popular music.
However, the movie also has some strong Romantic elements, with a significant amount of foul language and other strong lewd content, plus some domestic violence and a scene of drug use. James persuades the band to sing and perform R&B instead of gospel. Later, he chastises his band when they are playing the music based on traditional music theory, and he tells them that he wants them to use their ears. His philosophy is to do and play what sounds good and what feels good. He also leads the “do your own thing” movement in the 1960s counter-culture movement.
(Pa, BB, CC, RoRo, LLL, VV, SS, N, A, DD, MM) Light mixed pagan worldview in a depiction of music star James Brown’s life, with strong moral elements when James has to face the consequences of his actions (such as going to jail for stealing) and sometimes does the right thing, strong overt Christian elements when protagonist watches charismatic preacher perform as a boy and a Christian woman extends mercy to let James be released into her custody from jail and this leads him to join a gospel music group, and strong Romantic elements as James makes choices by what sounds and feels good, which leads to getting into trouble when his ego becomes too big; 31 obscenities and two light profanities, plus some uses of the “n” word; some strong and light violent content includes lynched man’s body hangs from tree, domestic abuse, husband shoots at wife, man beats his son, son killed in car crash, man fires shotgun into ceiling, protagonist smacks his second wife and she falls back down steps; strong and light sexual content includes briefly depicted fornication, talk about fornication and prostitution, implied adultery, protagonist’s aunt runs house of prostitution, and he helps promote their services when his father leaves him with his aunt in one sequence, and some suggestive crude comments; upper male nudity and scenes with female cleavage, especially one scene where topless prostitute at brothel covers her breasts as she looks out window; alcohol use; smoking mostly cigarettes, but James Brown adds cocaine to a marijuana joint and smokes it; and, strong miscellaneous immoral content includes domestic abuse and family dysfunction, poor parental role models, stealing, lying, James Brown breaks parole, James runs from police and resists arrest, racism, and James Brown condescends to and doesn’t pay band members.
GET ON UP is an entertaining biography about James Brown, the legendary Godfather of Soul. After a troubled childhood, James is discovered in jail by gospel music performer Bobby Byrd. Starting in gospel music with Bobby, James makes his way to stardom. He becomes an innovative performer in funk, soul and R&B music, recording hit after hit. However, as his musical success grows, so does his ego. Eventually, he loses bands, friends, family, and lands in jail again. After being released from jail, he returns to the stage and performing.
GET ON UP has excellent production values and overt Christian content, but it also contains plenty of lewd content. Chadwick Boseman of 42 delivers a terrific performance as the legendary singer. The story is told in nonlinear fashion, but the music and performances help. There are positive references to God and Jesus and some positive moral values. These are mixed with Romantic elements, foul language, strong lewd elements, scenes of domestic violence, and a scene of drug use. So, extreme caution is warranted for GET ON UP, the story of James Brown.