Get On Up Parent Guide
Like so many other bio-pics about famous musicians, "Get On Up" delivers elements that seem all too familiar.
Parent Movie Review
Not surprisingly, with Tate Taylor, the director of The Help at the helm (along with some of his cast members from that movie) and the likes of Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger producing, Get On Up is a polished piece of work that covers decades of musical history surrounding one of the greatest legends of R&B and soul music. In fact, James Brown was so unique he developed a new genre called “funk” that has literally become an ingredient for much of the music we hear today. (“Literally” because Brown’s music is often “sampled” in various new songs and revisions of his tunes.)
Using a non-linear timeline that bounces between five decades, this film chronicles various stages of Brown’s life, including his severely disadvantaged childhood (where he is played by Jordan Scott and Jamarion Scott) when his mother (Viola Davis) left him with his abusive father (Lennie James). From there Brown is shuffled into a brothel under the care of Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer), followed by a visit to the penitentiary after stealing a suit. Eventually he finds refuge within the Byrd residence.
It is Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) who brings James into his religious family. A musician who sings in a gospel group at the prison where Brown is incarcerated, Bobby recognized the potential in the young inmate. He hopes to share with him some of the same Christian love taught about in his home too. Still, Bobby’s father is reluctant to embrace the prodigal, who ends up being a mixed blessing. Although Brown does get back on his feet and begins what becomes a long and successful career with Bobby, he also takes advantage of the close proximity he has to Bobby’s sister (we see their relationship briefly portrayed with clothed sexual activity).
Soon James Brown (now played by Chadwick Boseman) is making solid music with Bobby’s small group called The Famous Flames. From there, thanks to help from trusted manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd), he follows a path to fame lined with golden moments of charitable work and USO performances. Yet it is potholed as well with egotistic arrogance, vicious domestic squabbles, mismanagement of finances and violent run-ins with the law. At the lowest point, seen in the opening and closing moments of the film, the singer enters one of his own businesses with a shotgun and threatens a woman who has used “his” toilet. The outcome is a police chase, with shots being fired between cars, followed by an arrest.
If you’re a fan of Brown’s music you’ll be treated to a variety of his songs performed with precision singing and dancing that punctuate this well-over two-hour picture. However you’ll also find some disturbing moments of racial prejudice, along with brutality toward women and children. The scenes fall short of explicit but may still be bothersome to young audiences. Even more disappointing are the lack of consequences portrayed for many of these hostile and hasty decisions. Viewers of this movie may simply see James Brown as a determined man who is able to overcome vast odds to achieve his goals. This is a worthy and noble trait, however his treatment of women, his band members and even his various visits to prison might be construed only as obstacles he must surmount. There is little evidence offered to suggest he has learned from his mistakes.
Other content concerns include infrequent scatological slang, mild profanities, and a single sexual expletive. Many scenes feature cigarette and tobacco use (accurate for the periods portrayed in this film) along with alcohol consumption, sometimes to the point of intoxication. Drug references are heard and in one scene an illicit substance is added to tobacco in a cigarette.
Like so many other bio-pics about famous musicians, Get On Up delivers elements that seem all too familiar. A troubled childhood, personality conflicts with band members, money problems and domestic abuse with a collection of wives and ex-wives. This observation isn’t meant as a criticism specific to this film—Get On Up provides good performances and its manipulation of time works well to contrast the various stages of Brown’s life in a unique and engaging way. However, after having watched many of these “underprivileged kid makes it big” movies, I can’t help but wonder why current rising stars (some whose lives seem to have better beginnings) are still making so many of the same mistakes. Perhaps they need to sit through a half-dozen of these films and see the same tragic pattern repeating over and over and over.Directed by Tate Taylor. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis . Running time: 139 minutes. Theatrical release August 1, 2014. Updated July 17, 2017
Get On Up
Rating & Content Info
Why is Get On Up rated PG-13? Get On Up is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations.
Violence: Infrequent portrayals of domestic violence, some involving men verbally and physically abusing children and women. Young Black boys are blindfolded, provided with boxing gloves and placed in a ring where they fight each other for the entertainment of White onlookers. After one boy is punched we see him with blood on his face. A man with a rifle enters a building where a business meeting is being held, and asks who has used “his” toilet. He then shoots a hole in the ceiling. A man flees in a vehicle from police and shots are exchanged. A dead man is seen hanging from a tree. A man breaks into a vehicle and steals a jacket—he is later caught and sent to prison. A man hits his wife hard enough to knock her to the floor. A man threatens his wife with a gun and shoots to frighten her. During a concert White police officers are seen pushing Black audience members off the stage. A plane catches fire but eventually lands safely.
Sexual Content: A brief portrayal of sexual activity is shown, with no nudity and little detail. Sexual activity is also implied in other scenes. An obviously topless woman is shown with her arms are covering her breasts. A husband makes forceful sexual remarks toward a woman, telling his wife to remove her underwear. At first she looks fearful but then acquiesces and jumps into his arms.
Language: Approximately 16 instances of coarse language including one use of a sexual expletive in a non-sexual context, infrequent scatological slang, cursing, and vulgar expressions. Ethno-cultural slurs are heard in a historical context.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Tobacco use is frequently depicted in a historical context. Illegal drug use and alcohol abuse are also portrayed.
Page last updated July 17, 2017
More parents' guide for Get On Up after the break...
Get On Up Parents' Guide
When James is living with the Byrd family he says that he feels God has a plan for him. How do his spiritual remarks contrast with some of his actions? In reality James Brown supported many charities, specifically ones aimed at helping under educated and impoverished children. At the same time he committed criminal acts at different periods of his life. Do you think this is paradoxical behavior? Do we see similar examples from other celebrities?
Why do you think most biographical movies about famous people begin with a disadvantaged childhood? Do you think people would be just as excited to view a film about a child born into a wealthy family who achieves stardom? Do portrayals like this motivate you to want to achieve greater things in life?
Learn more about James Brown.
The most recent home video release of Get On Up movie is January 6, 2015. Here are some details…Home Video Notes: Get On Up
Release Date: 6 January 2015
Get On Up releases to home video with the following supplements:
- Feature Commentary with Director/Producer Tate Taylor
- Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes
- Full Song Performances
- Long Journey to the Screen
- Chadwick Boseman: Meet Mr. James Brown
- The "Get On Up" Family
- On Stage with the Hardest Working Man
- The Founding Father of Funk
- Tate Taylor's Master Class