Bohemian Rhapsody, 2018.
Directed by Bryan Singer.
Starring Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen. Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Aaron McCusker, Dermot Murphy, Meneka Das, Ace Bhatti, Dickie Beau, Neil Fox-Roberts, Philip Andrew, Matthew Houston, Michelle Duncan, Max Bennett, Adam Rauf, Scott Morrison Watson, and Mike Myers.
A chronicle of the years leading up to Queen’s legendary appearance at the Live Aid (1985) concert.
Immediately after releasing the iconic, genre-bending classic song Bohemian Rhapsody, professional music critics blasted the piece (which for the uninformed is a mixture of a ballad, opera, and tried-and-true rock ‘n roll). Like many great works, it was simply misunderstood for its time (similarly, film critics often initially tore into Stanley Kubrick’s now hailed in high regard projects); something so ambitious and unlike anything out there that no one really knew how to analyze it, or could have ever predicted that it would have become the phenomenon it was and still is today.
Bohemian Rhapsody the film, (which chronicles Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury from his baggage handling days all the way to superstardom, his falling out with the band, and a reunion performance as part of the multi-venue Live Aid concert put on to raise money for those starving in impoverished countries) is already being met with a mixed reaction and understandably so, although much like the success of the song itself, and time will tell, this conventionally safe but rousing biopic might just find an audience, negative critical reception be damned. The revolving door of flat-out masterpieces and remarkable performance from Rami Malek (who nails the electrifying flamboyance of onstage movements while lending the copious amounts of self-aggrandizing dramatic moments more talent than the script deserves) simply are enough to please viewers; it feels nearly impossible to be a Queen fan and not be rocked to the core.
It’s a shame that the direction from Bryan Singer (who was fired off the project for a plethora of personal reasons, replaced by Dexter Fletcher) is too concerned with celebrity worship to truly create a work of art as towering an accomplishment as the majority of the band’s albums. To clarify, I want it to be known that I went into Bohemian Rhapsody with absolute clarity and willingness to accept what I saw (and as you can see, I did to an extent), especially after reading a quote from co-star Lucy Boynton (a revelatory charming presence in Sing Street, one of the most underrated and best films of the decade) firmly standing by the creative decisions taken (it’s also worth pointing out that the script was written by Darkest Hour‘s Anthony McCarten).
This particular statement was in defense of maintaining Freddie Mercury’s privacy, specifically regarding his demons, which ranged from drug abuse to an abundance of unprotected sex with other men. Thankfully, in an age where everyone doing the rounds for the latest Disney/Marvel movie talks about the importance of LGBTQ inclusiveness but doesn’t actually go the extra step to make through on it, Bohemian Rhapsody does not shy away from Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality; there’s a rather touching moment where he and his significant other Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) come to terms with his sexuality together, which Freddie initially deludes himself into believing is bisexuality. These are the kinds of important dialogue exchanges the film needs more of.
Bohemian Rhapsody loves to tease the idea of delving deeper into the less flattering lifestyle of Freddie Mercury, but is just as quick to yank the rope right back up and throw at us another recording session where fellow band members kick around ideas, usually resulting in some contrived explanation for the manifestation of the next radio hit. Most of the segments feel like a forced cliché, with the only session registering as fun being the recording of Bohemian Rhapsody itself; the band is pushed way out of their comfort zone in putting together this oddball classic, which makes for energized moments of camaraderie and hilarity that also feel organic. Unfortunately, naturalness is one of Bohemian Rhapsody‘s missing qualities, again, with most scenes either feeling overdramatized or fake. Instead of tackling subjects with any sense of complexity, the film would rather bluntly flash Freddie Mercury coughing up some blood from his contraction of AIDS that would eventually kill him, rather than become an intriguing character study or cautionary tale regarding his demons. It would be lying to say Bohemian Rhapsody ignores these things, but they certainly don’t matter in the grand context of the narrative.
The film also just plain suffers from the usual biopic trappings; telling far too big a story within 2+ hours, underdeveloped characters and dynamics, and not enough focus. Rami Malek truly does nail the part, especially looking the part in the over the top wardrobe design (admittedly, the hairpiece in the first act is a bit iffy but the unusually large teeth and wide mouth all look fine enough), and even while lip-synching is able to somewhat match the intensity of Freddie Mercury’s real-life go-for-broke stage presence (why the film was not screened for critics in Dolby Digital just for the final 20 minutes alone will now forever be a mystery to me), but there is more to his journey worth telling, whether it be more intimate portraits of his numerous homosexual romances or an unflinching look at his drug indulgence.
Enjoyment from Bohemian Rhapsody all comes down to whether one can accept that this film is a celebration of Queen rather than a serious and thought-provoking work of art. Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury alongside the propulsive momentum of the experience (a hilarious cameo from Mike Myers paying homage to Wayne’s World is genius, even if the role itself feels miscast and slightly too comedic) is ultimately enough for me to give this a passing grade. Queen fans will most definitely find a great deal of enjoyment (it’s hard to resist stamping your feet whenever a song by them plays in any movie, so an entire film consisting of them is an ear orgasm that further heightens appreciation for their legacy), but it’s the diehards and film aficionados that will come away feeling cheated out of an amazing biopic. I realize it does no good dwelling on what never came to fruition, but it can’t be helped wondering what the canned Sacha Baron Cohen version would have brought to the stage.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com