Movie Review: 'Bob Marley: One Love'

'Bob Marley: One Love falls into most of the familiar traps of the music biopic...'

Movie Review: 'Bob Marley: One Love'

It was a good idea for “Bob Marley: One Love” to open on Valentine’s Day. Not just because there hadn’t been a decent box office performer in weeks (and even “Mean Girls and “The Beekeeper” were only mild hits) and the market was ripe for a takeover. Not just because the holiday weekend needed a blockbuster and “Madame Web” wasn’t up to the task. But because the movie had “Love” in its title, it could dominate the couples’ scene on Wednesday and ride that insurmountable lead to winning the weekend. The result was a domestic take of over $50 million, enough to already make it the 2nd-biggest movie of the year, behind only “Mean Girls,” which it will probably overtake before the week is out. The film can be associated with a brilliant commercial decision, but not so much its creative ones.

The film mostly follows reggae legend Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) in the late 1970’s. He’s already nationally famous when the film begins, as he sets to bravely play a controversial peace concert in Jamaica. Assassins storm his home and shoot Bob, his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch), and his friend Don (Anthony Welsh). All three survive and Bob plays the concert, but he decides that the violence-ridden country is not safe for him and his family anymore. He sends Rita and their children to America while he lies low in London.

After years of exile and loneliness, Bob releases his album “Exodus,” which gains him worldwide fame and brings reggae music to the mainstream. Although he’s always advocated for peace, Rita believes the message has gotten lost in the commercial success and he needs to do something more meaningful. Seeing that she’s right, and faced with his own mortality from a rare form of skin cancer, Bob returns to Jamaica to perform another peace concert, this time to unanimous adulation.

For months I was dreading this movie because of a line in the trailer. One of the members of Bob’s band asks where he wants to “start,” and Bob, very thoughtfully says, “From the beginning.” The cheesiness of that line told me that this was going to be a painfully by-the-numbers biopic, and on a lot of counts, it is. But to people as alienated by that line as I was, I will say that the scene comes midway through the film, so it does not get the film off on as bad a note as I thought it would. In fact, we see very little of “the beginning,” aside from a few flashbacks, dream sequences, and text screens. There are a distracting number of text screens, as if there’s going to be a test later. The film can be dry at times, but it’s never quite as bad as homework.

“Bob Marley: One Love” falls into most of the familiar traps of the music biopic, with the singer’s marital troubles and health problems showing up right where you’d expect them. At least the protagonist is an endearing figure and Ben-Adir is giving a charismatic performance. It’s hard not to get swept up in the magic of Bob Marley at times. But then again, that’s a pretty low bar for a movie like this to clear.

Of all the music biopics you can watch in theaters or at home, “Bob Marley: One Love” is… one of them. Netflix-exclusive Best Picture Oscar nominee “Maestro,” where Bradley Cooper plays conductor Leonard Bernstein, on the other hand… is also “one of them,” honestly. Cooper as director takes a few more creative risks with his film, but both of these movies are eye-rolling Oscar bait. “Maestro” landed among the nominees because it was released right at the end of the year, no doubt it would have been forgotten if it had opened in February like “Bob Marley: One Love.” I expect to have forgotten about both movies once one’s box office cools down and the other’s awards run fizzles out.

“Bob Marley: One Love”: C-

“Maestro”: C

“Bob Marley: One Love” is rated PG-13 for marijuana use and smoking throughout, some violence and brief strong language. Its running time is 107 minutes.

Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.

Last Update: Feb 19, 2024 10:24 am CST

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