Review: ‘Get On Up’ Is Basically ‘Walk Hard: The James Brown Story’

Get On Up: The Unironic Dewey Cox Story

“Quiet, y’all. Dewey Cox gotta think about his whooole life before he sing.”

So begins the criminally underrated musician biopic spoof Walk Hard, in which fictional rock legend Dewey Cox takes the long walk to the stage with the crowd chanting his name, pausing to reflect on life and thereby initiate a series of flashbacks that will become the movie – from a poor childhood through a series of rocky relationships to his current status as self-assured legend, a live lived hard that taught him to… walk hard. So also begins Get On Up, a James Brown biopic directed by Tate Taylor (The Help) starring Chadwick Boseman as the hardest working man in show business, which follows Brown from his sharecropper childhood to eventually being raised in a Georgia brothel, going to prison, joining a gospel band, making it big, having band troubles, having lady troubles, having police troubles, having toilet troubles, until that third act concert scene brings it all full circle and makes everaythaaang seeem allllll right. And all because he learned that no matter how many times you get knocked down, you just have to keep telling yourself to Get. On. U-(*hit by truck*)

The film jumps from time period to time period with James Brown learning or teaching some important lesson in each vignette. Important notes that really get to the heart of the man, like “you gotta pay the cost to be the boss” and “if it feels good, it’s music.” You know, not just something you could’ve come up with from reading the liner notes (wink wink, sarcasm sarcasm).

Amongst all the supposedly formative experiences of James Brown’s life, amazingly, one thing we never see James Brown doing is, you know, actually learning how to play music.

Seems like that would be important, no?

Early on in the film, we see James Brown and his band in a cargo plane on their way to play for the troops in Vietnam. They’re taking heavy fire and everyone’s scared, everyone except of course James, who doesn’t want to talk about the flak exploding around him. He only wants to complain about why he was only allowed to bring six members of his 22-piece band. He’s not scared, you see, because James Brown didn’t care about such trivialities as his plane losing one of its engines, he only cared about the funk, baby, that’s why he was James Brown! It’s a cute story, but the problem is, all I could think about during the scene (other than “I bet this didn’t actually happen this way,” which would become a theme throughout the movie) was “this dude was leading a 22-piece orchestra? I sure hope they show how he actually learned to do that and not just more mystical ‘groove is in the heart’ bullshit.”