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Come for Bob, stay for Rita in ‘Bob Marley: One Love’

Chris Hewitt – Star Tribune – (TNS)

Most of the people at the “Bob Marley: One Love” screening I attended walked out of the theater singing along with the closing credits song, Marley’s “Is This Love.”

That’s a tribute to the song, not the movie, but it also underscores something the film seems likely to do: Amplify how tremendous the Marley catalog is. Obviously, classics such as “No Woman, No Cry,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Exodus,” “Three Little Birds,” “One Love” and “Redemption Song” remain favorites even without the movie (all are on the compilation “Legend,” one of the biggest selling albums of all time). But putting the songs at the center of the movie was smart not just from a marketing standpoint but from a filmmaking standpoint, since their stirring, buoyant sounds do a lot to smooth over rough patches in the narrative.

There are a lot of them. Wisely, “One Love” doesn’t try to tell Marley’s entire life story, concentrating instead on 1976-78, the eventful years during which Marley and wife Rita were shot during a brewing civil war in Jamaica, Marley and the Wailers gained world fame with enormous tours and Marley eventually returned to Jamaica for a peace concert that, at least briefly, united warring politicians onstage.

Flashbacks fill in a few details of Marley’s early life, particularly meeting Rita when both were teenagers. But, mostly, “One Love” is content hinting at the complications of their life. Both had children with other partners while they were together and, as Rita says during an argument, “You come and go while I make a home for your children, including the ones from other women.”

If musical biopics such as “Rocketman” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” work best during those moments when the lead performance is so uncanny that you briefly believe you’re watching the real deal rather than an actor, you should not expect that sort of thing from “One Love.” Kingsley Ben-Adir, who was terrific as another real-life legend, Malcolm X, in “One Night in Miami,” is buried in a series of unconvincing wigs. He also has the wrong sort of charisma to capture the buoyancy and spirit of Marley — which is underlined during the closing credits, when documentary footage of Marley show what a free, generous performer he was.

Although it could be argued she’s saddled with a version of the role of the nagging wife who keeps begging the lead to come home and play Crazy 8 with the kids, Lashana Lynch is the real revelation of “One Love.”

Lynch — who stole scenes with very different performances in “Matilda the Musical” and “The Woman King” — does it again here, giving Rita a quiet, unshakable calm that is magnetic. It’s the trickiest part in the movie, since Rita is required to be Bob’s moral center and to sum up where his monumental talent came from. But when Lynch says, “All that struggle, that’s the source of your power,” you’ll believe it.

If you want to learn about Marley, you’re better off diving into Kevin Macdonald’s “Marley” or one of the other documentaries about the reggae legend. Meanwhile, Lynch convinces us Rita has lots more stories to tell.

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‘BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE’

2 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: PG-13 (for marijuana use and smoking throughout, some violence and brief strong language)

Running time: 1:44

How to watch: In theaters Wednesday

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©2024 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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