After much anticipation and reported production woes, Bryan Singer’s Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody finally hit theaters. Near the end of last year, director Bryan Singer was fired from the film due to frequent absences from set and clashes with the cast. Dexter Fletcher was then brought on to complete the last couple weeks of filming. With such highly publicized and dramatic problems during its production, Bohemian Rhapsody could have been an absolute disaster. Luckily, it isn’t. But it’s not all that good either.
The main selling point for this film is Rami Malek’s portrayal of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Malek’s performance has been in the conversation for potential awards consideration for months now, and he does not disappoint. He completely disappears into the role, with the help of a great makeup team, and brilliantly captures Mercury’s stage presence in the musical scenes.
On the whole, “Bohemian Rhapsody” probably would have worked much better as a miniseries than a feature film. There is so much that happens throughout Mercury’s life and Queen’s run as a band that it cannot all be explored in a single film. In that sense, Bohemian Rhapsody tries to do the impossible. Most of the dramatic scenes are actually thinly veiled moments of exposition— a jumpy retelling of a timeline of Queen’s history, with music in between. It’s a shame to see a history as rich and vibrant as Freddie Mercury’s wasted on a poorly plotted story; one of the most interesting, talented, legendary singers in the world deserves a narrative that understands the story it wants to tell. Make no mistake, Bohemian Rhapsody is supposed to be the story of Freddie Mercury, through his time with Queen. We follow his perspective throughout the film, and (attempt to) pointpoint his emotional struggles. We title the movie with not only the most influential song of Queen’s career, but one that is notable for being the brainchild of Mercury himself. Yet the movie forgets this. The frontman’s history is diluted with unnecessary moments of song-making that help the film pander to wider, perhaps less Mercury-involved audiences. If this was the film’s intention, then why focus in on Mercury? Make the movie about Queen, the whole. Call it Killer Queen. In its effort to draw in the masses, Bohemian Rhapsody loses Freddie Mercury as the artist he was. The film is constantly plagued by its inability to settle on a sole perspective— is this Freddie’s movie, or Queen’s?. Perhaps the most heinous result of these commercializing efforts is the odd flubbing of Queen’s history in an effort to drive plot, and its subsequent villainizing of Mercury’s character. Mercury’s decision to pursue solo efforts in the film are completely fictionalized, as drummer Roger Taylor had been working independently prior to Mercury, in Queen’s actual history. Mercury could have been a source of tension in the band’s history, but to structure the story on inaccuracy is unnecessary. It is not only an insult to the band’s history as a whole, but especially to Mercury, whose identity as an artist, a band member, and a queer man suffers because of this poor storytelling. In terms of emotional content, you might as well just be reading the Queen Wikipedia page. You might get a better picture of Mercury himself while you’re at it.
Along with Rami Malek’s performance, the musical performances in the film are astounding. The energy of the music and the band members is infectious. However, like the rest of the film, the emotional relevance of these performers is not there. The several scenes showing the band writing new songs play out the same repetition of “Let’s try ___.” “You’re mad! ___ will never work!” and then “Wait a minute… This is genius!” It’s fun and entertaining the first time, but after that, you get the point. Even the scene showing the band’s set at the Live Aid concert, wild and energetic and fun as it is, you could just watch a recording of the real concert on YouTube and have the same experience. It doesn’t do much for the film as a whole. The troubled production and problems with Bryan Singer may have contributed to the messiness of Bohemian Rhapsody, but its issues permeate down to the core of the script and its general approach to storytelling. Rami Malek is great and it’s an entertaining film, but unless you temper your expectations, there is not much here that will rock you. ★★★