In terms of music icons, there are very few standards. The most notable ones were eccentric types with definitive personalities. They entertained not only through song, but influenced fashion, physicality, and helped to shape the pop culture landscape. One of the loudest and innocuous icons is James Brown, whose music may lyrically seem surface level, but unified nations during political turmoil in the 60's and set precedents for African Americans in music. There is a reason that he is The Godfather of Soul and is the most sampled artist in history. He had a universal appeal in his simplicity. So how do you capture the magic of a performer who was so vivacious and magnetic without coming up short? Director Tate Taylor's Get on Up at very least looks to attempt to do the flamboyant man some justice.
It is always tricky when somebody goes about doing these biopics. There is the ideas of artistic license and capturing the moments that count simultaneously. We love these figures because they were larger than life, yet flawed as humans. We come for the complexity and the spectacle. It has always been the draw of these films and the Academy has noticed them in spades. Since 2000, there have been several nominees and winners including Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray, and nominee Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line.The rest of the history is rich with these performances. There is something alluring about these icons that makes it impossible to ignore.
So why would someone dare tackle James Brown? The simple truth is "Why wouldn't you?" The summer has already been a musical affair with Jersey Boys kicking things off. Even then, there's a lot of things that make Brown a fascinating individual. From his lack of proper education to political activism to that infamous car chase, he has had a storied life that is stranger than fiction. Most of all, he was an entertainer who despite drug problems, met presidents and changed the landscape of pop culture for the better. It would almost seem impossible to do his story justice even in the broad sense in less than two hours (the film clocks in at 138 minutes). Maybe it is because of my infatuation with the legend, but I want to see this film succeed in the ways that Walk the Line did for Johnny Cash.
As it stands, I have a little bit more optimism than most. While I didn't like The Help, I do feel like the director approaches racial topics with reverence and humor. Even the choice to cast Chadwick Boseman in the lead, which I was initially skeptical of, has some interesting gambles to it. For those unaware, Boseman starred in last year's 42 as Jackie Robinson. It was an enjoyable, serviceable ode to an important American figure. If nothing else, Boseman carried the film full of personality and charisma in a role that seemed thankless. Despite a very limited exposure, 42 made me curious to see where Boseman went next. Oddly enough, it was to tackle one of the biggest icons he could have ever played.
Maybe Boseman is going to be stuck playing American icons. Who cares? It is actually refreshing to know that American cinema has evolved into a multi-racial platform in the past few years and it is heartwarming to see films like The Help or The Butler getting some box office receipts in the process. There's a lot of performances that he could likely play and after 42, I would be curious to see them all. In the brief available clips, there is a sense of dedication to the physicality and mannerisms. Brown's mushy voice comes through in this particular scene in which he is being interviewed by reporters. It gives off hints of where he is likely to go with the rest of the film.
Yes, the film does suffer the potential biopic problem of being the rise and fall of a superstar. Despite their successes, Walk the Line, Ray, and La Vie En Rose all suffered from that. It shouldn't discredit the rest of the film at all. In fact, it makes the reliance on a great performance more important. If Boseman does anything as great with Brown as he did with Jackie Robinson, then I am sure that we're looking at something unique. What do I mean? We're looking quite possibly at one of the first serious Oscar contenders for next year's ceremony.
I will admit that it is an idea that I have had since first seeing the trailer months ago. There was the initial excitement that Brown was getting a biopic. Then there was the feeling that as a fan, I saw glimpses of moments that I have only recalled through articles and Youtube videos. Most of all, while Boseman in some ways isn't physically nuanced enough, he has enough personality and swagger to pull it off. Speaking as the Academy is really into performers that play real life people, I don't see how this would be hard to overlook.
If nothing else, he has the team behind The Help to back him up. Tate Taylor's film became a surprise box office success back in 2012 and eventually lead the film to four Oscar nominations, including one win for Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer (who also co-stars in Get on Up) and a spot in the Best Picture race. With this pedigree already established, it does seem more likely that the Academy will recognize Get on Up and treat the film with a specific reverence that should help it to advance in the race. The race is still early, but if The Help can be a surprise hit, then Get on Up is looking to do the same. Boseman in particular has enough charisma that this seems above absurd.
We'll have to wait until the weeks to follow to see how Get on Up actually plays. Seeing as it is one of my most anticipated movies of the summer, I am hoping for something fun and engaging. Even if it ends up just being a serviceable biopic like 42, it will at least keep my hopes alive for Boseman's chances and his eventual potential to get into the Best Picture race. Even then, the pedigree has me optimistic for something greater for this film. The hope is that a figure this loud and vivacious will be given justice on the big screen, which is all I can really hope for.
Will Chadwick Boseman get into the Best Actor race? Is Get on Up going to benefit from being the follow-up to The Help? Does any of the supporting characters stand a chance in the Oscar race?