Brow Beat

It Looks Like the Godfather of Soul’s Biopic Will Try to Hit Every Note

He’s got the moves, but will the movie have just as much substance as style?

Universal Pictures/YouTube

This summer, the complicated, epic, controversy-filled life of James Brown is finally making its way to the big screen in a Tate Taylor–directed, Mick Jagger–produced biopic. (Taylor also directed The Help.) Get On Up features an impressive cast, including Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, and Dan Aykroyd.

The man stepping into Brown’s illustrious shoes is himself not quite a star yet, but the first trailer for the film suggests that Chadwick Boseman could reach career-defining heights. Last seen playing another historical legend, Jackie Robinson, in last year’s 42, Boseman appears to have the moves and style down pat, peacocking in the best possible way.

On first look, Get On Up doesn’t seem to be as interested in bucking biopic conventions as Brown was in reinventing R&B and soul. Everything in the trailer feels a tad familiar—a conveniently prescient adult figure (Spencer, playing Brown’s aunt) predicting that our young subject will one day become a star; doubters who challenge the protagonist’s “crazy” ideas, only to be shot down with confidence (“If it sounds good, and it feels good, then it’s musical!”); the rise to stardom and the tribulations that follow.

Stylish biopics with a broad scope can be done brilliantly—think of Malcolm X, for instance. But unfortunately, the director of that film, Spike Lee, did not wind up helming Get On Up, as he was once set to do. Will Tate and the film’s three credited screenwriters be able to make this movie more than a showcase for Boseman doing a pretty good impression of the hardest-working man in show business? At the moment I got the feeling they haven’t.