BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Queen is one of my favorite bands that I don’t really know all that much about. I’ve never listened to a full album, nor really did a lot of research on them. I just listen to a lot of classic rock radio and whenever they come on, I know I love them. When I heard there was a biopic of them being made, primarily about Freddie Mercury, I thought it was a great idea like everyone else. Mercury was a large than life figure who is ripe for exploration in a film, as well as a perfect opportunity for an actor to truly show what he’s made of. Well, after a rough production that consisted of years and years of rewrites, actors like Sacha Baron Cohen being attached, then dropping out, and director Brian Singer being fired halfway through production, it seems like everything has been working against the film.

Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of the British rock band Queen, all the way from their formation in 1970, until their iconic reunion performance at Live Aid in 1985. The story primarily follows lead singer and frontman Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), whose flamboyant personality and incredible voice would catapult them to stardom. Stardom doesn’t come without its price, however, as Freddie’s increasing fame and ego puts strain on the rest of the band.

The biggest appeal of a biopic is seeing someone famous be brought to life on the big screen. Ever since the beginning of film, there have been actors who have nailed the character, or completely failed to capture their essence. Well, when it comes to this film, Rami Malek is Freddie Mercury. From his first scene on camera, he nails the eccentric, flamboyant attitude that slowly grows and grows over the course of the film. Not just that, but he perfectly channels the insecurities Mercury feels through much of the film, especially with the connections he tries to form with other people. It’s a magnetic performance that doesn’t just carry, but elevates the film. I would have still loved to see Sacha Baron Cohen’s take, though. That movie must be in the same alternate universe where we got The Dark Knight Rises with Heath Ledger and actual final season of House of Cards. 

When Malek and the other Queen actors are performing on stage, it honestly felt like I was really watching them. Granted, they did use a lot of the legitimate audio from the studio tracks as well as a Freddie Mercury impersonator to make it all sound authentic, but the aesthetics of the film are fantastic, aside from the occasional cheap looking wig. The film is mostly flat and pedestrian in terms of direction, but there are some visually enjoyable montages of the band performing and going through certain points in their lives, although the sound mixing through the many Queen songs felt inconsistent. You also get a full recreation of their Live Aid performance, which is obvious where a majority of the budget went. It’s marvelously authentic, and film’s ability to use more creative camerawork made it feel that much more immersive, even if it wasn’t the actual band playing.

But aside from watching what amounts to basically a Queen cover band (in a way) perform their greatest hits and tell their story, there’s not really much else there. This is your standard, by the numbers biopic, complete with a foreshadowed performance at the beginning that caps off the film. Because of his bookend format, you pretty much know how every story and character beat will play out and when they’ll occur in the film. There never seemed to be any huge dramatic thrust, great conflict, or central story to guide the film. The band certainly argued at times, but it felt like there weren’t a lot of stakes or hardships in their journey, except for the last act, where the characters need to hit their low point. It all seemed to come too easy for them, most of it from Mercury’s creative prowess, which was sometimes eye rolling in how they tried to represent it. I’m no Queen historian, but it’s a little bit too much when Mercury just randomly composes the piano chord of Bohemian Rhapsody upside while lying in his bed, then says, “Yeah… it could be something.”

It’s just kind of confusing what everybody was really going for here. Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor basically had all the say in what happened in the film, and from the rocky production history, it was said they wanted Mercury’s death to happen in the middle of the film and showed how the band would carry on. Well, as I said with the Live Aid show bookending the film, that doesn’t happen. With the big climax being the Live Aid performance, you would think the film was supposed to be about the band, but a vast majority of the film is about Mercury. He’s the only member of the band who gets solo screentime and gets any exploration into his personal life and state of mind. There’s a personal story about him with his loneliness and insecurities, but there’s not enough time devoted to that, since half of it is a story about the whole band. Most of the time, it’s just a lot of him acting like an egotistical prick that often treats his bandmates condescendingly, which got grating after awhile. The way Mercury was portrayed felt a little bit disingenuous to me. While I don’t know anything about their history, having every other Queen member painted as some saint while Mercury constantly messes around seemed a bit biased.

If you’re a big fan of Queen, then I think there’s plenty to like about Bohemian Rhapsody from an aesthetic standpoint. You get a healthy selection of Queen songs shown in a fun way, with Rami Malek effortlessly emulating Mercury’s presence and personality, with excellent makeup, hairstyling, and costuming to boot. It’s just a shame that movie all around everybody is so unfocused, safe, and predictable. To be honest, I would love a documentary about Queen’s story, warts and all. If there can be a totally excellent, 3-hour documentary about Eagles, then I think it could be done justice for Queen as well. That’s not what movies are all about, though. We want to see a famous actor portray another famous person. As far as that goes, you’ll get it, but not much else.

5.5/10

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