Get on Up (film)

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Get on Up
Get On Up poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTate Taylor
Produced byBrian Grazer
Mick Jagger
Tate Taylor
Victoria Pearman
Screenplay byJez Butterworth
John-Henry Butterworth
Story bySteven Baigelman
Jez Butterworth
John-Henry Butterworth
StarringChadwick Boseman
Nelsan Ellis
Dan Aykroyd
Viola Davis
Craig Robinson
Octavia Spencer
Music byThomas Newman
CinematographyStephen Goldblatt
Edited byMichael McCusker
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • August 1, 2014 (2014-08-01) (United States)
Running time
139 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[2]
Box office$30.6 million[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]


Get on Up uses a nonlinear narrative as James Brown's stream of consciousness, including asynchronous events and breaks in the fourth wall. It opens in 1993 with James walking through a hallway as an audience chants his name. He hears voices of people he knew throughout his life. The film cuts to 1988 in Augusta, Georgia; James learns his private bathroom in a strip mall he owns was used without consent. As James confronts and then forgives the trespasser, he accidentally fires a shotgun.

James and his band travel to Vietnam to support black troops and are well-received.

In 1939, James is raised in the woods by parents, Susie and Joe Brown, who endure financial struggles and physical abuse. Later, he performs in a gospel group, The Famous Flames, formed by Bobby Byrd, whose family sponsored his release from prison. In 1964, manager Ben Bart convinces them to let The Rolling Stones close The T.A.M.I. Show. The Flames upstage the Stones, and, exiting, James says, "Welcome to America".

In James' childhood, Susie leaves Joe; Joe threatens her with a gun and keeps James. Joe beats James until Joe joins the army. James is left living with and working for his Aunt, who runs a brothel, though he attends church and enjoys the choir.

At 17, James steals a suit and receives a 5-to-13-year sentence. In prison, James sees a group performing. His reaction incites a riot wherein both he and a singer, Bobby Byrd, are injured. Bobby invites James into his household. Their group perform after Little Richard. Later, James goes to the burger joint where Richard works. Richard rants 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 band, James wins.

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. Executive Syd Nathan isn't interested but changes his mind when he hears James singing. Ben becomes James' manager, calling him the group's true voice. The records are labelled "James Brown and His Famous Flames", leading all except Bobby to quit. James and Bobby reform the band and perform successfully at the Apollo Theater.

Afterwards, Bobby tells James 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 his mother was foolish and James would become rich.

James has a child, Teddy, with first wife Velma, later divorcing her and marrying Dee-Dee. After a Christmas event, James hits Dee-Dee for her revealing outfit. Reaching out to the community, James records "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" (1968). James convinces the Boston Garden's manager to continue a performance following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. People try to get on stage; security intercedes until James calms the audience.

As success grows, James's relationships turn sour. He treats bandmates like lackeys, doesn't allow their creative input, pays them late and makes them work days off. Eventually, they quit. Ben dies of a heart attack. Bobby considers becoming a lead singer: after Brown says he was not good enough, he also leaves.

Backtracking to the Apollo, Susie appears and expresses her love for James despite her reluctance to be a mother. After she leaves, Bobby enters, sees James breaking down, and heeds his request to care for Susie. In 1973, James learns Teddy dies in a car accident.

We return to the mall. Prior to this, James smokes a joint laced with angel dust. Following the accidental discharge, James is pursued by police, drives through a barricade, sees visions of his parents and is cornered and arrested.

In 1993, James meets Bobby for the first time since Teddy's funeral to give him show tickets. His performance of "Try Me (I Need You)" moves Bobby to tears. The audience cheers.



Imagine Entertainment listed a James Brown biopic in development in 2000, with a script titled Star Time written by Steven Baigelman.[21] 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[22] stalled in 2006 over music licensing[23] and finance issues.[24] It was revived in 2012[23] when Jagger read a recent draft by the Butterworth brothers.[25] 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.”[23] The script took some liberties and includes at least one scene involving fabricated incidents.[26] Lee vacated the directors position[27] 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.[4] On August 29, 2013, Universal Pictures set October 17, 2014, as a release date for the film, previously untitled.[28] Later, on November 13, Universal shifted the release date of the biopic from October to August 1, 2014.[5]


On August 26, 2013, Universal selected Chadwick Boseman to play the lead role of James Brown.[6] Boseman did all of his own dancing and some singing.[29] The soundtrack is live recordings of James Brown.[29] 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.[30] On September 30, Taylor cast Viola Davis to play Susie Brown and Octavia Spencer to play Aunt Honey.[10] On October 21, Nelsan Ellis joined the cast of film to portray Bobby Byrd, Brown's long-time friend.[8] Lennie James joined the cast on October 23, to play the role of Brown's father Joseph "Joe" James.[11] 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.[9]

On November 3, Universal added Keith Robinson to the film to portray the role of Baby Roy, a member of Brown's band.[15] On November 14, Tika Sumpter also joined the cast, to play singer Yvonne Fair.[14] There was a rumor that Taraji P. Henson was to join the film to play Tammi Terrell.[31] Nick Eversman joined the cast on November 19, to play Mick Jagger.[16] On December 9, 2013, it became public that Brandon Mychal Smith was selected to portray Brown's musical idol, Little Richard.[32] On December 20, Josh Hopkins joined the film to portray the role Ralph Bass, a music producer.[12] 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.[33] There was another call on January 6, 2014 for extras to film some daytime scenes in Jackson on January 7, 2014.[34]


Shooting began on November 4, 2013, in Natchez, in and around Natchez through the end of the year, and then in Jackson, Mississippi.[35] 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.[33][36] Filming got on track again on January 6, 2014, in Jackson.[34] 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.[37] In total Get on Up was shot in 49 days.[23]


On September 1, 2014, it was announced that the film would be the opening film of the 2014 Zurich Film Festival.[38]


On March 13, 2014, Universal released some photos and a first official trailer of the film.[39][40] A second official trailer was released on May 20.[41]

Critical reception[edit]

Get on Up was met with positive reviews from critics, with praise mainly going to Boseman's performance. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 79% based on 164 reviews, with an average rating of 6.88/10. 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".[42] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 71 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[43] Additionally, Brandon Smith received praise from critics for his brief but memorable role as Little Richard.[44][45][46] 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."[47]

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,[48] Several other critics noted key facts and incidents omitted in the film,[49] in articles such as "The Social Activist Side of James Brown You Won’t See In Get On Up",[50] "The Great Man Theory of Funk: Get On Up shows us James Brown the unstoppable personality, but skimps on James Brown the musician",[51] and "12 Crazy James Brown Moments You Won't See in Get on Up".[52]

Box office[edit]

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).[53]

As of September 22, 2014, Get on Up has grossed $30,569,935, against a $30 million budget.[3]


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  2. ^ Steve Dougherty (July 24, 2014). "James Brown and the Making of 'Get On Up'". WSJ.
  3. ^ a b "Get On Up (2014) - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
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  5. ^ a b "Universal Moves Up Release Date For James Brown Biopic 'Get on Up'". November 13, 2013. Archived from the original on November 16, 2013. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Kroll, Justin (August 28, 2013). "'42′ Star Chadwick Boseman to Play James Brown". Retrieved December 22, 2013.
  7. ^ Ali, Lorraine (July 24, 2014). "Getting it together for James Brown biopic". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
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  10. ^ a b c Fleming Jr, Mike (September 30, 2013). "Tate Taylor Reunites With 'The Help's Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer On James Brown Pic". Retrieved December 22, 2013.
  11. ^ a b Kroll, Justin (October 23, 2013). "'Walking Dead' Actor 'Lennie James' Joins James Brown Biopic 'Get on Up'". Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  12. ^ a b Sneider, Jeff (December 20, 2013). "'Cougar Town' Star Josh Hopkins to Play James Brown's Producer in 'Get on Up'". Retrieved December 23, 2013.
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  14. ^ a b "Tika Sumpter Cast In James Brown Biopic 'Get on Up'". November 14, 2013. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  15. ^ a b "Keith Robinson Joins James Brown Pic 'Get on Up'". November 3, 2013. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
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  17. ^ Sneider, Jeff (October 24, 2013). "'Treme' Star James DuMont Joins James Brown Biopic 'Get on Up'". Retrieved December 23, 2013.
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  24. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (May 20, 2008). "Spike Lee sets Michael Jordan film". Variety. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
  25. ^ Browne, David (January 31, 2013). "James Brown Estate Revs Up With Biopic". Rolling Stone (1175): 22.
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  27. ^ "Spike Lee Fired From James Brown Biopic". Slate. November 2, 2012.
  28. ^ Hayden, Erik (August 29, 2013). "James Brown Biopic 'Get on Up' Gets October 2014 Release Date". Retrieved December 22, 2013.
  29. ^ a b Stern, Marlow (August 4, 2014). "'Get on Up' Star Chadwick Boseman on Becoming James Brown—With A Little Help From Mick Jagger". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
  30. ^ A. Obenson, Tambay (September 17, 2013). "Casting Call For Universal's James Brown Biopic - Actors, Musicians, Extras..." Archived from the original on December 24, 2013. Retrieved December 22, 2013.
  31. ^ "Might Taraji P. Henson Be Playing Tammi Terrell In 'Get on Up,' The James Brown Biopic?". November 18, 2013. Archived from the original on December 24, 2013. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  32. ^ "Disney's Brandon Mychal Smith to Portray Little Richard". Btscelebs. December 9, 2013. Retrieved July 20, 2014.
  33. ^ a b "Extras needed in Jackson, MS for the James Brown biopic 'Get on Up'". December 27, 2013. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  34. ^ a b ""Get on Up" Call for Film Extras". January 6, 2014. Archived from the original on January 16, 2014. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
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  37. ^ "Filming for 'Get on Up' ongoing in Jackson". January 13, 2014. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
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  41. ^ Hughes, Jason (May 20, 2014). "Chadwick Boseman Overcomes Family Struggles in New Trailer for James Brown Biopic 'Get on Up'". Retrieved June 2, 2014.
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  46. ^ "Get On Up Review". Huffington Post. August 1, 2014.
  47. ^ Christgau, Robert (August 22, 2014). "Get On Up". Billboard. Retrieved September 4, 2018.
  48. ^ Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy. "Get On Up is a cagey, shapeless James Brown biopic". The A.V. Club.
  49. ^ Jung, E. Alex. "12 Crazy James Brown Moments You Won't See in Get on Up".
  50. ^ Harris, Aisha (August 1, 2014). "The Social Activist Side of James Brown You Won't See In Get On Up". Slate.
  51. ^ Wolk, Douglas (July 2014). "The Great Man Theory of Funk: Get On Up shows us James Brown the unstoppable personality, but skimps on James Brown the musician". Slate.
  52. ^ Jung, E. Alex (August 12, 2014). "12 Crazy James Brown Moments You Won't See in Get On Up".
  53. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for August 1-3, 2014". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. August 4, 2014. Retrieved August 22, 2014.

External links[edit]