Thursday, June 22, 2023

Review of the film Chevalier: Kelvin Harrison Jr.'s musical biography strikes a lot of wrong notes

 Review of Chevalier: The new musical biopic starring Kelvin Harrison Jr. is never as brilliant as its subject because it is an inert telling of an incredible true story.

Chevalier, a biopic about the first Black European composer to receive widespread acclaim, opens with a scene that gives away the movie's true nature. The scene is elegant, lighthearted, and, when necessary, quite thrilling. Joseph Bologne, the illegitimate son of an African slave and a white plantation owner, crashes a performance by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and then challenges the master to an Epic Cadenza Battle.

The crowd is thrilled, despite initially being skeptical about this rude interruption. It's similar to purchasing tickets to the Dave Chappelle comedy show in which he was accidentally tackled on stage. The Mozart in this film, like Chappelle in real life these days, is an entitled genius who is used to having people worship the ground he walks on. He is prodigiously talented, yes, but entitled. It is unfortunate that he does not appear in the remainder of the film, which transforms into something entirely different following this excellent opening sequence.

Chevalier, starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., opts instead to jump back in time to show a young Joseph being enrolled by his father at a prestigious Paris academy and then forward many years to show him being a member of the elite after Mario Antoinette herself has named him "Chevalier." You can only speculate as to the specific deals he made with the devil to advance in the world. Chevalier, the film, sees no point in showing any of it, other than the imperative harassing scene at school, trailed by a closing succession wherein Joseph is compelled to repel bigoted spikes notwithstanding blade assaults.

Strangely, the conflict between Joseph and a white man for the open position of conductor at the Paris Opera takes up most of the drama. Additionally, the second act of the film transforms into a hopeful title race. We see Joseph's tendency to stand out—he marries a married woman after falling in love with her voice but doesn't really talk about his personal struggles on stage—but we never quite figure out what drives him. This isn't just an endurance adventure; Joseph wants to be the best. Given everything he has (presumably) gone through, you naturally sympathize with him. But these scenes are handled in a way that is driven by the plot of the movie, so you never really get a chance to see inside Joseph's head.

Is this a tale about Icarus? Is Joseph becoming too cocky? Or would anyone in his position have to use this as a defense mechanism? Most importantly, why does it appear as though the film is advising Black people against being overly ambitious? because Joseph is more than just a Black man; He is Black and holds a position of power, if not prestige. By the way, the movie doesn't tell you to ask any of these things. You will begin to contemplate these issues primarily out of frustration.

Veteran television director Stephen Williams frequently fails to locate an intriguing movie in there. Instead, he covers Chevalier in a soapiness that's almost Bridgerton-like. There is a villain whose description in an early scene makes him sound so despicable that Inspector Javert might feel compelled to turn it up a notch lest he be mistaken for a saint. Minnie Driver stops by to play a vamp that even Ekta Kapoor would be proud of.

While all of this makes for moderately entertaining fare, Chevalier never really feels as important as it should. It is possible for a movie to be nimble but weighty. In terms of tone, it is about as lighthearted as the most recent Cheetos movie, Flamin' Hot, a drama about an upwardly mobile "outsider" who was abused racially. However, Chevalier defied societal norms and produced music that moved millions, and that guy may have invented a flavor for snacks. No one is weeping over Cheetos, no matter how delicious they are. Because of this alone, Joseph Bologne's amazing story deserved an amazing movie.

Catch Daily Highlights In Your Email

* indicates required

Post Top Ad