Get on Up (film)
Get on Up is a 2014 American biographical musical drama film about the life of singer James Brown and directed by Tate Taylor and written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. The film stars an ensemble cast featuring Chadwick Boseman as Brown, Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, Dan Aykroyd as Ben Bart, Viola Davis as Susie Brown, Craig Robinson as Maceo Parker and Octavia Spencer as Aunt Honey. The film was released on August 1, 2014.
|Get on Up|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tate Taylor|
|Produced by||Brian Grazer|
|Screenplay by||Jez Butterworth|
|Story by||Steven Baigelman|
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Edited by||Michael McCusker|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$30.6 million|
Get on Up is told using a nonlinear narrative as if through James Brown's stream of consciousness, including asynchronous events and frequent breaks in the fourth wall. The film opens in 1993 with James Brown walking through a darkened hallway as an audience chants his name. He hears the voices of people he knew throughout his life. The film then cuts to 1988 in Augusta, Georgia; James learns that his private bathroom in a strip mall he owns was used without his consent. As James confronts and then forgives the trespasser, James accidentally fires a shotgun, attracting the police.
During the 1960s, James and his band decide to travel to Vietnam to show support to the black troops, where they put on a well-received show. In 1939, James is raised in the woods by his parents (Susie and Joe Brown), whose marriage is fraught with financial struggles and physical abuse. Later he performs in a singing group, The Famous Flames, formed by Bobby Byrd, whose family sponsored his release from prison, a penalty he paid for stealing a suit. James lives with the Byrd family and becomes lead singer of Bobby's group. In 1964, manager Ben Bart convinces them to let The Rolling Stones close The T.A.M.I. Show instead of The Flames. The Flames upstage the Stones, and, exiting the stage, James tells the Stones, "Welcome to America". In James' childhood, Susie leaves Joe, and Joe threatens her with a gun and keeps James. Joe continues to abuse James until Joe joins the army. James is left living with and working for his Aunt Honey, who runs a brothel. At her home, he attends church and enjoys the choir.
At the age of 17, James steals a suit, is arrested, and receives a 5-to-13-year prison sentence. In prison, James sees a group of singers performing. His enthusiastic reaction incites a riot wherein both he and one of the singers, Bobby Byrd, are injured. Bobby invites James into the Byrd household. Years later, James joins Bobby's gospel group and they put on a show at a club as The Famous Flames, following a performance by Little Richard. Later, James goes the burger joint where Richard works. Richard goes on a rant about not wanting to make music for the "white devil". Another flashback from James's childhood shows him and other black boys forced into a battle royal boxing match while a band plays. Inspired by the funky band, James wins the match.
In the 1950s, James and Bobby meet Ralph Bass, an agent for King Records, with whom The Flames record their first single, "Please, Please, Please", on the Federal Records label in 1956. King Records executive Syd Nathan initially isn't very interested in the repetitive nature of the song, but he changes his mind when he hears James singing. Ben Bart becomes James' manager, calling him the true voice of the group. The records are labelled as "James Brown and His Famous Flames", leading all the members except Bobby to quit. James and Bobby form a new band with Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, Nafloyd Scott, and Baby Roy. The Famous Flames singing group is also re-formed, replacing the members that quit. The Flames perform at the Apollo Theater to an excited audience. After the show, Bobby tells James that a lady claiming to be his mother is there. As a young child, James had seen Susie with a soldier, to whom she claimed she didn't know James. Aunt Honey consoled James, saying that his mother was a fool and James would someday be rich.
James has a child, Teddy, with his first wife Velma. He later divorces her and marries Dee-Dee. On one occasion, the couple hosts a Christmas event. Afterwards, James hits Dee-Dee for wearing a revealing outfit. In an attempt to reach out to the black community, James records the song "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" (1968) with a group of children. James convinces the Boston Garden's manager to not cancel a performance following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Several people try to get on stage; security guards intercede until James controls the audience.
As his success grows, James's relationships with others turn sour. He treats his bandmates like his lackeys and doesn't allow creative input from the others. Maceo confronts James one day about the band not getting paid on time and having to spend their off days rehearsing. Eventually, they all quit and leave James. Ben dies of a heart attack during a golf game. James buries his friend, tearing as he does so. Bobby muses about a career as a lead singer, leading to a heated argument with Brown, who tells Bobby that, although Bobby's wife Vicki Anderson (who was a featured singer in Brown's Revue) could be a major solo performer, Bobby could not. Angry and upset, Bobby fires back at Brown, and after Brown makes some cruel statements, finally leaves him for good. Backtracking several years, to an incident at the Apollo, Brown's mother Susie appears backstage during a Flames concert and expresses her love for James despite her reluctance to be a mother. After she leaves, Bobby comes back in, sees James having a breakdown, and heeds his request to take care of Susie. In 1973, James learns Teddy has been killed in a car accident.
We go back to the scene at the strip mall. Prior to this, James smokes a joint laced with angel dust. Following the accidental discharge of the shotgun, James is pursued by the police in his truck. He drives through a barricade and has a police car driving next to him, in which he sees visions of both his mother and father. James is eventually cornered outside a factory and arrested.
In 1993, James meets Bobby for the first time since Teddy's funeral to give him tickets to his show. James walks onto the stage through a darkened hall. He sees visions of people from his life chanting his name. (from the pastor at church to Aunt Honey and her friends), and remembering how far he's come to get to this point. His performance of "Try Me (I Need You)" moves Bobby and his wife Vicki to tears, and the audience cheers.
The text at the end says that James Brown was and still is considered one of the greatest and most sampled musical artists of all time. He continued to perform into his 70's, at times with Bobby Byrd. He passed away on Christmas Day 2006. The credits feature real pictures of the Godfather of Soul himself.
- Chadwick Boseman as James Brown
- Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd
- Dan Aykroyd as Ben Bart
- Viola Davis as Susie Brown
- Lennie James as Joseph "Joe" Brown
- Fred Melamed as Syd Nathan
- Jamal Batiste as John "Jabo" Starks
- Craig Robinson as Maceo Parker
- Jill Scott as Deidre "Dee-Dee" Jenkins
- Octavia Spencer as Aunt Honey Washington
- Josh Hopkins as Ralph Bass
- Brandon Mychal Smith as Little Richard
- Tika Sumpter as Yvonne Fair
- Aunjanue Ellis as Vicki Anderson
- Tariq Trotter as Pee Wee Ellis
- Aloe Blacc as Nafloyd Scott
- Keith Robinson as Baby Roy
- Nick Eversman as Mick Jagger
- J. D. Evermore as Seminar Presenter
- Ahna O'Reilly as Reporter
- James DuMont as Corporal Dooley
- Stacey Scowley as Penelope White
- Liz Mikel as Gertrude Sanders
- Aaron Jay Rome as Frankie Avalon
- Clyde Jones as Daddy Grace
- Joe T. Blankenship as Alan Leeds
- Michael Papajohn as 1949 Cop
- Kirk Bovill as Announcer
- Aakomon Jones as Bobby Bennett 
- John Benjamin Hickey as Richard
- Allison Janney as Kathy
- Jamell Richardson as Jimmy Nolen
- Justin Hall as Bootsy Collins
- David Carzell as Catfish Collins
- Jason Davis as Mayor Kevin White
- Billy Slaughter as Pool Cleaner
- Charles R. Rooney as President Lyndon B. Johnson
- Phyllis Montana-Leblanc as Mrs. Byrd
Imagine Entertainment listed a James Brown biopic in development in 2000, with a script titled Star Time written by Steven Baigelman. Mick Jagger joined on as a producer, and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth were brought on to rewrite the script, titled Superbad. Spike Lee was set to direct but development stalled in 2006 over music licensing and finance issues. It was revived in 2012 when Jagger read a recent draft by the Butterworth brothers. John-Henry Butterworth was fascinated by the period concept of celebrity in preparing to write. “When James was becoming famous, you had to hide where you came from and be squeaky clean. Whereas if he were an artist launching his career now his upbringing and what happened to him would be right there in the press release. Everyone knows how many times 50 Cent has been shot.” The script took some liberties and includes at least one scene involving fabricated incidents. Lee vacated the directors position and on October 22, 2012, it was announced that Tate Taylor (The Help) was set to direct the untitled biopic about James Brown, to be produced by Mick Jagger and Imagine Entertainment's Brian Grazer. On August 29, 2013, Universal Pictures set October 17, 2014, as a release date for the film, previously untitled. Later, on November 13, Universal shifted the release date of the biopic from October to August 1, 2014.
On August 26, 2013, Universal selected Chadwick Boseman to play the lead role of James Brown. Boseman did all of his own dancing and some singing. The soundtrack is live recordings of James Brown. On September 17, Universal announced an open casting call for actors, musicians, and extras for different roles in the biopic, which was held on September 21. On September 30, Taylor cast Viola Davis to play Susie Brown and Octavia Spencer to play Aunt Honey. On October 21, Nelsan Ellis joined the cast of film to portray Bobby Byrd, Brown's long-time friend. Lennie James joined the cast on October 23, to play the role of Brown's father Joseph "Joe" James. Jill Scott and Dan Aykroyd were added on October 31; Scott played Brown's wife while Aykroyd played Ben Bart, the president of one of New York City's largest talent agencies Universal Attractions Agency.
On November 3, Universal added Keith Robinson to the film to portray the role of Baby Roy, a member of Brown's band. On November 14, Tika Sumpter also joined the cast, to play singer Yvonne Fair. There was a rumor that Taraji P. Henson was to join the film to play Tammi Terrell. Nick Eversman joined the cast on November 19, to play Mick Jagger. On December 9, 2013, it became public that Brandon Mychal Smith was selected to portray Brown's musical idol, Little Richard. On December 20, Josh Hopkins joined the film to portray the role Ralph Bass, a music producer. After the shooting wrapped up in Natchez, Mississippi, the production was looking for extras to begin a shoot on January 6, 2014, filming a concert scene set in Paris in 1971. There was another call on January 6, 2014 for extras to film some daytime scenes in Jackson on January 7, 2014.
Shooting began on November 4, 2013, in Natchez, in and around Natchez through the end of the year, and then in Jackson, Mississippi. On December 20, 2013, the film wrapped up shooting in Natchez. Crews were set to take a holiday break and then return to filming from January 6–24, 2014, in Jackson. Filming got on track again on January 6, 2014, in Jackson. On January 13, 2014, press posted the news that crews had filmed large scenes at Thalia Mara Hall, and they shot other scenes at Mississippi Coliseum, Capitol Street, and some of the restaurants in Jackson. In total Get on Up was shot in 49 days.
Get on Up was met with positive reviews from critics, with praise mainly going to Boseman's performance. The film currently has a rating of 80% on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 158 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9/10. The site's consensus reads: "With an unforgettable Chadwick Boseman in the starring role, Get on Up offers the Godfather of Soul a fittingly dynamic homage". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 71 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Additionally, Brandon Smith received praise from critics for his brief but memorable role as Little Richard. Music critic Robert Christgau found the film "not just good--great. Better than The Help, which I quite admire, and Ray, which I love. A mite short of a work of genius--it fudges too much and mythologizes beyond the call of narrative necessity. But worthy of the genius who inspired it nevertheless ... Get On Up does justice to his unknowable soul and his unending music, both of which defy closure by definition."
Less favorable reviews include "Get On Up is a cagey, shapeless James Brown biopic" by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who rated the film D+ at The A.V. Club, Several other critics noted key facts and incidents omitted in the film, in articles such as "The Social Activist Side of James Brown You Won’t See In Get On Up", "The Great Man Theory of Funk: Get On Up shows us James Brown the unstoppable personality, but skimps on James Brown the musician", and "12 Crazy James Brown Moments You Won't See in Get on Up".
The film grossed $13,585,915 during its opening weekend, finishing in third place at the domestic box office behind fellow new release Guardians of the Galaxy ($94,320,883) and Lucy ($18,252,590).
As of September 22, 2014, Get on Up has grossed $30,569,935, against a $30 million budget.
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