Director Tate Taylor’s storytelling style, which includes shifting timelines and breaking the “fourth wall” by having Boesman as Brown directly address the audience, will be praised by some and loathed by others. While it gives you a sense of just how many personas Brown had and how larger than life he was, it also becomes confusing at times and undercuts the movie’s flow. Brown’s activism is glossed over, although he was a central figure of black power, at least in the music business. He recorded “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud,” in 1968, the year King was killed, as an ode to the civil rights movement. In the movie, it comes across more as a feel-good anthem.
Where Get On Up is most amazing, unsurprisingly, is its musical numbers, especially the recreation of Brown’s historic T.A.M.I performance and the show he did in Boston the day after the King assassination.
That Taylor captures the emotional arc of Brown’s life, which provides insight into his abuse not just of women, but of the men he made music with, does put Get On Up a notch above many other biopics. But in some scenes, Brown descends into caricature instead of the complex, difficult, tough, musical genius he truly was.
Bosemen transcends any weaknesses of the direction and script, getting Brown’s thick Southern twang down (no doubt helped by the fact that he’s from Anderson, S.C.) as well as his dance moves. He and Ellis as Byrd have a chemistry that is missing from some of the scenes with other actors, including Jill Scott as Brown’s second wife, who comes across as a pretty prop.
To capture the essence and complexity of a man and career like Brown’s is an almost impossible task, but in Get on Up, Taylor and Boseman come tantalizingly close.