When Queen released Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975as a single for their upcoming album A Night at The Opera, critics were critical of the song. They felt it was too self-important and, of all things, “all flash and calculation.” Yes, people thought that Bohemian Rhapsody was formulaic way back when! Well, while most people who have ears probably don’t agree with the critics were saying about the song, I would say those reviews would be particularly applicable for the Bohemian Rhapsody film that was just released a few days ago. But then again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just disappointing that a movie that’s about one of the most interesting and colorful people isn’t all that interesting and colorful itself.
Bohemian Rhapsody is generally a biopic about Freddie Mercury and his time with Queen and any fan of the fabled singer and the band probably know the story already. However, for the sake of those who are coming in blind, this will be a SPOILER FREE review.
Well, saying that this is a telling of Freddie Mercury’s entire life and times would be a false statement. Bohemian Rhapsody generally follows Freddie Mercury from just before he joined up with Queen in 1970 until the fabled Live Aid concert in 1985. It shows the band and Freddie Mercury’s humble beginnings playing pubs in London, the rise to stardom, the spiral into hopelessness in the middle and the eventual rising up against adversity. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is: it’s the general plot of every biopic ever made. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, this is a film about Queen and, more specifically, Freddie Mercury. Fans expected a little more depth to be given to the character. I may not be the biggest Queen fan but Bohemian Rhapsody feels like a Cliff Notes version of Freddie Mercury’s history; if you have some knowledge about the man, you probably won’t learn anything new here. Heck, it even seems like Freddie Mercury’s Wikipedia page has more juicy tales than this movie!
I do have to comment that, even though this is a biopic, there are a ton of inaccuracies and contradictions to history. Some events were moved back and forward in time and some events are flat-out lies. That’s to be expected with any biopic. However, some of these changes to Freddie Mercury’s life were altered for a more dramatic effect. So, if you think this is a history lesson about the man, you might want to do a little more research than just watch the movie.
This is a film that does focus on Queen’s flamboyant lead singer and, to the film’s credit, Bohemian Rhapsody makes you know that he’s the focus. The problem is, because of this strong focus on Freddie Mercury, the other characters are pushed way into the background. Even the other members of Queen aren’t given all that much time to shine or display any real personality. The other three members, Brian May (lead guitarist), Roger Taylor (drummer) and John Deacon (bassist), are in the film and are given a lot of screentime but they all generally act the same. You can switch their lines around and you wouldn’t notice the difference because the three behave in the same general manner.
This does bleed into the acting performances and, sadly, anyone who isn’t Freddie Mercury isn’t given much to show any range. The biggest surprise for me was how they portrayed Mary Austin, Freddie Mercury’s, for a lack of a better term, better half and soulmate. She comes off incredibly hackneyed and bland. She’s generally your manic pixie dream girl sans the manic as she’s just a vehicle to drive Freddie Mercury’s character. I can’t really Lucy Boynton, the actress that played Mary Austin in the film, giving a rather flat performance as the character wasn’t written incredibly well.
There is one huge shining star, however, and it’s a star bright enough to overshadow all the shortcomings of the other characters. Thankfully, that’s Rami Malik’s brilliant performance as Freddie Mercury himself. There are times when you can tell that someone is just impersonating a real life character. Rami Malek does far more than just “impersonate” Freddie Mercury; he embodies the person. His performance is over-the-top but never feel disingenuous. He movements mimics Freddie Mercury’s exaggerated stage performances in such an uncanny way. But the best thing about Rami Malek’s performance is how uncanny he comes to being the person he’s portraying. I knew he was just playing a role but I totally bought into his performance and I didn’t think he was the guy from Mr. Robot or the closeted gay friend from a show called The War at Home, which is where I actually know him from best!
While I really liked Rami Malek’s version of Freddie Mercury, his stellar performance wouldn’t be enough to life the film from the doldrums of mediocrity. Thankfully, there are a couple of other things that do make Bohemian Rhapsody still a pleasant viewing experience. The first thing would be the cinematography. Bohemian Rhapsody is very well shot and beautiful to look at. While you never get any really beautiful backgrounds or anything like that, it’s just the way things are framed and presented on screen. Whenever Queen performs on stage, it’s a thing to behold as it manages to capture the feeling of a grand stage performance by one of the biggest bands ever. There are some clever edits as well, such as montages of Queen travelling around the world performing in different venues. It just seems like a seamless experience.
The second thing is, of course, the music. You can’t have a film about Queen and Freddie Mercury without featuring any of their songs, can you? They play most of the biggest hits in the film! You also get a nice, little montage of how the song was written and developed. Now, I already mentioned earlier that a lot of stuff in Bohemian Rhapsody is fiction. How they say the songs were created may not be true but, from an entertainment perspective, it’s fun to see. Generally, if you like Queen’s music (and really, who doesn’t like at least one of their songs?), Bohemian Rhapsody’s soundtrack is a killer.
The question becomes, do those three things, the cinematography, soundtrack and Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury, make up for all the other film’s shortcomings? In my opinion, I have to say yes. As much as I like to say that Bohemian Rhapsody is pretty much the film version of the “four chords pop song” as it’s a formulaic biopic, I still enjoyed watching the film. As a biopic, it tells a mostly sanitized and fraudulent version of Freddie Mercury’s fifteen year career with Queen but I still couldn’t stop watching the spectacle of what’s happening on the screen. It may be lacking in substance but, like Freddie Mercury in his prime, Bohemian Rhapsody wasn’t lacking in style.
Overall, I can recommend Bohemian Rhapsody because it’s an enjoyable tale of a man’s rise to fame and his fall before him making a huge comeback. It’s a tale that’s been spun before but it’s a tale that entertaining. It is real or is it just fantasy? Doesn’t really matter to me… because Bohemian Rhapsody is worth your time.
Have you seen Bohemian Rhapsody? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!