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Film / Get On Up

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We still got some tropes left in us, Mr. Byrd?

Get on Up is a 2014 biographical drama/Jukebox Musical depicting the life and career of one of America's most influential entertainers, James Brown. The movie is directed by Tate Taylor, the director of the film The Help, and stars Chadwick Boseman as Brown. The cast also includes Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.

The film alternates between segments relaying the stories of Brown's later years, his rise to fame, and his childhood, displaying how he transformed from a poor boy in Augusta, Georgia into one of the greatest names to sweep the country.

Let's bring the super-heavy funk to this tropes section here!

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Let's face it: James Brown was nowhere near as attractive as Chadwick Boseman.
  • Anachronic Order: The movie's plot isn't played through in any specific order: the film begins near the end of the story to set up How We Got Here, and then mainly plays from James, Bobby, and the Famous Flames beginning their career onward, showing clips from past scenes in order to provide context for some of the events that James experiences as he matures.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Some of the African Americans in the film freely use the slur "nigger."
  • Artistic License – History: Largely averted thanks to the writers having the real Bobby Byrd as a historical consultant. While some criticized the film for not really showing how involved James Brown was in the Civil Rights Movement, this is a case of omitting history, rather than simply getting it wrong. A straighter example, though, is how James and Bobby meet while Bobby is performing at the prison where James is being held. In real life, Brown met Bobby Byrd soon after his release from prison.
  • Aside Glance: Constantly, from Mr. Dynamite.
  • Badass Boast: "I paid the cost to be the boss."
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: James can rock a suit, and when he has business to take care of, he can be exceedingly badass.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Some of the members of James' band think that he is this, viewing him as an attention-hungry tyrant who just presents a friendly face to the world. While there is a grain of truth to some of their statements, though, James is actually the opposite of this trope, a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who, admittedly, does want his share of the spotlight and can be quite strict; however, he is by no means greedy, or without good intentions. Most of what the band perceives as sheer narcissism is actually James reacting to a cruel world, and a past that is more complicated than they think.
  • Book Ends: In regards to the portrayal of James and Bobby's relationship in the film. The two first meet as teenagers when Bobby and his group are singing the gospel song "I Need You" at the jail where James is incarcerated. At the end of the movie, taking place several decades later, James (who has been estranged from Bobby for at least a couple of those decades) invites Bobby and his wife to one of his performances, and sings the very same song as a way of showing Bobby his remorse; the lyrics of the song also convey the lifelong bond that he has with his best friend and partner.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Played with. Occasionally, James will break off from normal interaction with everyone else, and speak directly to the camera while offering exposition and clarity. However, he doesn't acknowledge the audience itself (aside from a vague "Are you ready?"), which implies that this might be some complex form of inner monologue. What makes this so smooth (and at times, amusing) is that sometimes he'll pause and interact with other objects or people to prove his points, which gives one the feeling that this film is more of a documentary than it is a biographical drama.
  • Broken Ace: James' unmatched musical talents that propel him to superstardom are contrasted with his estranged relationship with his wife, best friend and bandmates in addition to a troubled past, personal tragedies and struggles with drugs.
  • Camp Straight/Ambiguously Gay: Little Richard talks to James about pleasing the gals, but calls James "sugar" and acts generally pretty flamboyant and effeminate.
  • Chew-Out Fake-Out: Shortly after their formation, the Famous Flames come across a club currently hosting a performance by Little Richard. When the entertainer takes a ten-minute break, James convinces the band to take advantage of the opportunity and put on a performance of their own. They proceed to do so, and bring the ceiling down on the place. When Richard hears and comes back, he approaches James, and it seems that he's indignant that the novice stole his spotlight. However, it turns out that he was impressed by James, and he ends up giving him crucial advice on how to survive in the entertainment industry as a Black man.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A couple of examples. One is when James is applying for parole (keep in mind that he had previously been the cause of some disturbance in the prison because of his enthusiasm when it came to music):
    Parole Board Member: So, you want to be a singer?
    James: Oh, no sir. What I really want to be is a mechanic.
    • Another example is when James and his band go to Vietnam to perform for the African-American troops there; they encounter a less-than-warm reception that involves dodging anti-aircraft fire. James, who was in the cockpit, comes back to the passenger cabin, where this dialogue occurs:
      James: Men, they shooting at us.
      Band Member: No shit, Mr. Brown.
  • Determinator: James Brown. As he puts it, not even "purpose" can stop a man from doing what he's gotta do.
  • Heroic BSoD: James has two: one comes after his mother (whom he hadn't seen once in the couple of decades since she had abandoned him) comes calling, asking for money and acceptance back into her now-famous son's life; the other comes after his son, Teddy, dies.
  • Historical In-Joke: See It Will Never Catch On below. Another example is how James subtly snarks at a parole board member that he doesn't want to be a singer, but a mechanic: one story (there are many) as to how Brown got his parole is that S.C. Lawson, an owner of a car and motor manufacturing company, decided to sponsor him.
  • Hypocrite: James himself lampshades this for the audience when we see him smoking drugs after Teddy's death:
    "Do's I say, not as I do...."
  • Insufferable Genius: James can at some points come across this way. Especially when he gets miffed about Bobby thinking about a solo spin-off career.
  • It's All About Me: Played with. When James and Bobby have their falling out, Bobby notes that James has always "been on your own". His intense self-reliance is a major source of the conflicts he has with those close to him.
  • It Will Never Catch On: A few minutes before a performance, Ben notifies James that there's been a change in plan: The Rolling Stones will be closing the show instead of James' band. When James becomes visibly irritated (at this point in time, the Rolling Stones hadn't even performed in the United States before that night), Ben tries to pacify him by saying that within a year the Stones will probably fade into obscurity. This is especially amusing, as Mick Jagger was the executive producer of the film.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: James is portrayed as this. He is extremely strict with his band, taking fines from them if they're so much as a minute late, is shown to have hit his second wife at least once, and is pretty domineering over Bobby, becoming derisive and insulting when Bobby speculates about his own potential as a solo performer. However, he became so tough because he knew that he would have to be that way to survive in a world biased against him, probably hated the idea of Bobby going solo because his friend was all that he had after his parents abandoned him, and has been shown to genuinely care about others; his brief speech to the African-Americans gathered at the Boston Garden when his performance is interrupted shows that he is not selfish, and wants the rest of his people to succeed as he has.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Joe and Susie Brown. Each gets a moment that implies genuine care for James, but later completely subverts these expectations. See Parental Abandonment below for details.
  • Jive Turkey: James can certainly be this way. It's ambiguous as to whether he's doing it as part of his "persona" or not, as his younger years show him doing it a bit less.
  • Mood Whiplash: The funny moment of James having Pee Wee do his James Brown impression leads right into Bobby Byrd walking into the studio announcing that MLK has been shot.
    • Later, the super-awesome concert where James and Bobby perform the title song and "Superbad" leads right into the two friends having the conversation that leads to the end of their partnership.
  • Parental Abandonment: James' mother, Susie, is chased away from their home by his father Joe. It looks like Joe might at least care for James on his own, but because of an increasingly unstable financial situation, Joe joins the army and leaves James with Aunt Honey(without so much as a good-bye). Technically, Susie didn't really abandon James at first, since at first she tried to take James with her, but was forced by Joe at gunpoint to leave him. However, any doubts as to her selfishness and lack of concern for her son are expelled in a later flashback, where James (while living with Aunt Honey) actually sees his mother with a soldier. When James recognizes and calls to his mother, she stares at him in surprise, but denies knowing him. This memory is part of James' inspiration to make it to the top on his own.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • Aunt Honey becomes this for James. While she can be cold and strict at times, she's the one who tells the young James that someday he will be famous. Surely enough, when he does become a star, Aunt Honey's the one looking proudly up at him from the crowd.
    • Ben, James' record manager, is a surprisingly straight example. Despite appearing to be the "the white devil", he turns out to be supportive and loyal of James, who in turn starts calling him "Pop." When he dies James is distraught and bordering on another Heroic BSoD.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Ben Bart is this for James, which is partly why James calls him "Pop".
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: James is the temperamental, attention-seeking Red to Bobby's quiet, thoughtful Blue.
  • Rejected Apology: Susie shows up backstage after Live at the Apollo and apologies for abandoning James. James is very understandably not interested in hearing it; see Parental Abandonment for details.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When James realizes that he and Ben would probably be better off trying to handle the show business on their own, rather than being under-appreciated by record labels, Ben immediately tells James that they could never accomplish such a risk, and proceeds to ramble on, using different sports analogies to try to prove his point. James just gives a half-affectionate, half-exasperated Aside Glance to the camera and walks off, explaining the double standards of the music industry to the audience, while Ben is still obliviously trying to convince him.
  • Shout-Out: An interesting Running Gag involves James invoking tunes of his that he doesn't sing in the film by invoking their titles in dialogue (such as telling his son to stand back and see how "Papa don't take no mess".
  • Soul Brotha: James Brown is the Godfather of Soul.
  • Thicker Than Water: Very downplayed. James makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with his biological mother but ultimately decides to financially support her.
  • True Companions:
    • James and Bobby are undoubtedly this. A perfect example of this relationship is when James' band curses him out and walks out on him, and he expects Bobby to follow them. When Bobby refuses to ever leave, this exchange shows how Bobby is always there to keep James going:
      James Brown: (Stares at him for a Beat...and grins) See, that's the think about the funk. The funk don't quit.
      Bobby Byrd: Last time I checked.
      James Brown: 'Cause if the funk up and quit, than that's it!
      Bobby Byrd: That's why the funk don't quit.
      James Brown: Are we done, Mr. Byrd?
      Bobby Byrd: I'm afraid not, Mr. Brown.
      James Brown: I say are we done?
      Bobby Byrd: I think we still got more funk in the trunk.
    • You could also make a case for Ben, James' record manager. Even though he initially seems to fit the profile of "the white devil", he ends up sticking with James through thick and thin and at one point even tells James that he should never stop doing his own thing. When he dies, James is greatly saddened.
  • You're Not My Father: James is adamant about this when Susie shows up backstage after the Live at the Apollo concert. He flat out tell her that he doesn't want anyone knowing that she's his mother and basically orders her to leave. That said he does decide to give her financial support.