A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Get On Up is an entertaining biopic about the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Wide ranging, it covers both Brown's highs (groundbreaking performances and breakthroughs) and lows (the death of his child, domestic violence, smoking crack cocaine) and includes lots of mature material, making it too edgy for tweens and young teens. Expect scenes of relationship strife (physical fights and loud arguments), fighting, a car chase, a gun being fired, period-accurate smoking, social drinking, drug use (a brief scene shows a man adding a rock-like substance to his rolled cigarettes), passionate kissing, implied sex, and some swearing ("s--t," "f--k").
What's the story?
There are stars, and then there are STARS. James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) was a supreme entertainer, gifted with enormous talent and vision. But hardscrabble doesn't even begin to describe the life from which he sprung, with a neglectful mother (Viola Davis) who abandoned him and an abusive father who eventually left him in the hands of a brothel owner (Octavia Spencer). Brown's main escape as a child from a life hobbled by poverty and societal restraints was church, where he was awed by a preacher who sang with such conviction that it made young James feel unshackled, if only for a little while. After landing in jail for attempting to steal a three-piece suit, Brown meets Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), the lead singer of a gospel group who takes Brown into his stable home and provides the opportunity for the singer to finally take the stage and become the Godfather of Soul.
Is it any good?
Director Tate Taylor gets so many things right in GET ON UP, starting with the cast. The astounding ensemble is led by Boseman, who not so much mimics but channels the Godfather of Soul in carriage, bearing and -- especially -- onstage charisma, imbuing his performance with a lot of soul and depth, particularly in a backstage scene shared with Davis that will break your heart with its complexity and deep sadness. Boseman shares top credit, acting-wise, with Ellis, who paints Byrd with exacting authenticity and empathy.
And then there's the storytelling. Taylor dispenses with dogged chronology and opts for a boomerang approach that careens from Brown's adulthood to childhood and back again, each scene informing the previous one, adding layers so that the legendary R&B singer comes alive, flaws and all. (That said, the film is overlong, and Brown's relationship with his wives gets short shrift.) Best of all is how Taylor handles Brown's performances, allowing the music to dominate and persuade, to remind us why there is no other James Brown and likely never will be.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Get On Up portrays James Brown. Would you say the character is a multi-dimensional, complicated person? How does the movie handle his demons?
What are the challenges that a biopic faces in depicting its subject? Do filmmakers ever tweak the facts? Why?
Parents, talk to your kids about the domestic violence that takes place in the film. How does violence beget violence? How did it shape the singer?
- In theaters: August 1, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: January 6, 2015
- Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer
- Director: Tate Taylor
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and Dance, History
- Run time: 138 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations
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