Telling Freddie Mercury’s story is a massive undertaking. Queen’s trajectory as a successful rock band, coupled with Mercury’s uncompromising vision and commitment to his music, afforded the creators of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY the golden opportunity of telling one of the most compelling stories in music history. While occasionally entertaining, the film fails to capture the depth and complexity of the greatest showman to have ever rocked the stage.
They did get a few things right. The casting of the band members is on point. Not only with Rami Malek’s lauded performance, but the remaining Queen members as well. A young Brian May was adorable to watch. Malek obviously kills it. (We already knew this, people. He’s an intelligent and committed actor. I wouldn’t have expected otherwise). The two monologues (fighting with phony and unrecognizable studio exec Mike Myers and sharing his AIDS diagnosis with the band) were particularly emotional. The Live Aid performance is completely immersive. The soundtrack alone makes the film worth watching, specially for those who have been jamming to Queen for decades. AND trolling Roger Taylor for “I’m in Love With My Car” is perhaps the best inside joke written into the script. If you’re going to watch this film, do yourself the favor of AT THE VERY LEAST experiencing it at the movie theater.
But let’s get real. You’re not going to gain a detailed understanding of Mercury’s caliber as an artist from this film, and you’re also not going to see the full extent of the band’s struggles through a magnifying glass. In spite of the cool songs and the glitz and the glam, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is fast and forceful. The first half is uneventful. The script tries too hard to give punchlines and references to things you can read on Queen’s Wikipedia page. The dialogue is cheesy. The film was overly commercialized: unsurprising for Hollywood and a film of this magnitude, but a great offense to the artistic representation of the characters involved. The aggressive advertisement of the film promised an in-depth and nuanced look at the band’s trajectory, failing to deliver by trying to pack too much too fast into 134 minutes. An attempt to remind the world that Queen was a family who loved each other above all, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY shoves the notion of unity prevailing after Mercury’s “ultimate demise.” And that is perhaps the film’s biggest mistake. In a puritan way, it condemns Mercury’s lavish and extravagant lifestyle, painting him in the film’s second half as a selfish artist who gave up on the band, finally coming back after repenting for his mistakes.
Part of what distinguished Mercury’s wide-range artistic abilities was the daring ways in which he challenged norms. Not following any particular agendas, other than the quest of freedom and devotion to the stage. His famously provocative parties did not kill him, but they were part of who he was: eccentric and fabulous. In order to understand such a character, you can’t shame or shy away from that by merely painting him as a stereotypical rockstar getting lost in the world of drugs and rock-and-roll. You must explore how this facet of his life added depth to his range as a performer, artist, and creator. He was a troubled character who fed from his own loneliness and inadequacy to imagine and invent new roles for himself time and time again. He was The Great Pretender. And he did not give any fucks about what anyone thought. There is so much more to the band’s story beyond this notion of ‘we are all friends’ that, as a devoted Queen fan, I would have loved to see.
While BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is entertaining, it is also mediocre. There’s a line in the film where Mercury states he does not want to make Bohemian Rhapsody (the song) a formulaic radio-hit, and ironically, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (the movie) IS in fact a formulaic biopic giving a quick glimpse into two decades worth of highlights. A shame, given that producers had a prime opportunity to tell the story of a queer immigrant misfit operating within the rigidity of a culture he did not belong to, where instead of subscribing to it, he creates his own. No questions asked. No permission. Unapologetically creating his own reality and spreading that energy to millions across the globe. Like, how often do we get to understand such iconic figures?
Soooo, should you watch it? For the music and performances alone, yes. But maybe at the dollar theater. Producers wasted a unique story-telling opportunity, failing to take risks for the sake of playing it safe, but nevertheless deliver a feel-good product about the chemistry of a band beloved over generations. The performances are able to salvage a mediocre and cliched Hollywood script. (Got my eye on you, Elton John biopic). You’ll find yourself listening to A Night At the Opera and jammin’ in your car Wayne’s-World-style shortly after.