Bob Marley: One Love Falls Short of Musical Biopic Standards

Kingsley Ben-Adir as “Bob Marley” in Bob Marley: One Love from Paramount Pictures.

Bob Marley: One Love is plagued by some of the same things that turn musical biopics into a film that can be hit or miss.

Musical biopics can not just live or die on the music alone. The genre has never been the same following Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. It’s very telling when the parody film is stronger than most musical biopics. But for every such biopic that gets Oscar nominations, there are other films falling short of standards. I’m sorry to report that Bob Marley: One Love is a film that falls short of standards. They play it a bit too safe here even while covering a very narrow period in his life. While there are some flashbacks to his childhood and early years, these moments are few and far between. The fact that Bob Marley: One Love isn’t good is a shame because we’re talking about a Jamaican superstar. A superstar that is deserving of a better biopic.

The film starts out in 1976 shortly before an assassination attempt on Bob Marley’s (Kingsley Ben-Adir). Rita Marley (Lashana Lynch), manager Don Taylor, and band assistant Louis Griffiths would all survive. The family moved in the interim but not until after performing during Smile Jamaica. Marley himself would relocate to London for two years. During this time, Ernest Gold’s Oscar-winning and Grammy-winning Exodus soundtrack would inspire Bob Marley and The Wailers to record Exodus. At the same time, the film deals with Marley’s skin cancer diagnosis. All of this is told in 1 hour, 47 minutes–a film that is shorter than this week’s Madame Web.

It’s a real family affair both in front and behind the camera. Obviously, a number of Marley family members produce the film. A few offspring of The Wailers play their own parents, including Aston Barrett Jr. and David Kerr. As for Kingsley Ben-Adir, the actor does his best in bringing the superstar back to life. He puts in the work. The actor didn’t only learn guitar for the film but had to learn how to move while playing guitar in front of the camera. But despite his work, it is not enough to save the film.

While I’ve yet to watch Kevin Macdonald’s 2012 documentary, I’m sure the 145-minute film is a better use of time. This is the thing between documentaries and narrative features. What does a narrative feature add to the conversation that is not already in a documentary? The fact that Marley’s family both produces and executive produces shows 1) they care about telling his story and 2) they also have full control over the story that they want to tell. This isn’t a negative because I’ve seen worse films in the genre.

The music is the best part of the film and this is to be expected when they’re using the original tracks. It’s never a good look for any film when the best footage is the real-life footage at the end. And again, not all musical biopics are equal. I’m just as critical of this film as I would be of any biopic about The Beatles.

DIRECTOR: Reinaldo Marcus Green
SCREENWRITERS: Terence Winter & Frank E. Flowers and Zach Baylin & Reinaldo Marcus Green
CAST: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Tosin Cole, Umi Myers, Anthony Welsh, Nia Ashi, Aston Barrett Jr., Anna-Sharé Blake, Gawaine “J-Summa” Campbell, Naomi Cowan, Alexx A-Game, Michael Gandolfini, Quan-Dajai Henriques, David Kerr, Hector Roots Lewis, Abijah “Naki Wailer” Livingston, Nadine Marshall, Sheldon Shepherd, Andrae Simpson, Stefan A.D Wade

Paramount Pictures will release Bob Marley: One Love in theaters on February 14, 2024. Grade: 2.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.