Rating: Solid C for most of it but a huge A+ for the final scene.
Summary: A biopic about the music career of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
Biopics are a messy venture in which one could easily fall into the trap of either misrepresenting a person/events to an insulting degree or glorifying its subject to the point where the preceding feels like a sort of propaganda. Biopics about musicians are especially guilty of the latter to varying degrees. I personally prefer the biopics that aren’t afraid to show the hard truths of their subject, but of course, that isn’t always what the average moviegoer pays tickets to see.
I went into this movie with a very cynical view. The buzz around it from sources I trust wasn’t kind, especially from some devout Queen and Freddie Mercury fans. I came out surprised it wasn’t horrible but wasn’t impressed with the actual film.
Rami Malek is great as Freddie and especially captures his stage presence, sexual energy, and his otherworldly charm. This role is definitely going to grab him several nominations come award season. Dubbing over Malek with Mercury’s vocals was for the best, but Malek gives it his all in the choreography. However the facial prosthetics were at times distracting in an Uncanny Valley sort of way whenever Malek was speaking dialogue, but that just might be me.
The actors playing Mercury’s bandmates are enjoyable and even poignant in dramatic scenes. The recording scenes, in particular, are highly enjoyable and you can tell the actors were having a blast. As for the rest of the cast, they fill their roles nicely but none particularly stand out. They sort of feel like music biopic stock types with a few tweaks but they fulfill their purpose.
The highlight of the film is some stellar direction… in a few scenes. For the most part, the film is directed competently, but that’s it. I can assume it has to do with Bryan Singer’s abrupt departure. It is unclear to me which scenes are his and which ones were his replacement. Whoever it was, the finale at Live Aid is a spectacular sequence that had me in tears. I would be lying if I said Queen’s music wasn’t a huge factor in my emotional response, but I can’t ignore the thematic high that the scene made me feel. To most, Queen’s performance at Live Aid is one of their greatest moments and the film gave us that and more. If I had to rank the movie based on one scene alone it would easily crack my top 3.
However, the rest of the movie is not as grand. This film is a manufactured crowd-pleasing musician biopic set to appeal to the widest demographic possible. (Hello PG-13 rating!) The screenplay itself feels like Music Biopic MadLibs and the pacing is way too fast to let anything set in, almost as if the film is in a rush to get to the climax. Not one moment of Freddie’s life is given a moment to breathe or for the audience to digest, The film feels incredibly shallow as a result. It’s a real shame because I feel as though any particular moment, relationship, or dark side of Mercury’s life can fill whole documentaries in of themselves. Instead, we have a sanitized view of the man that tries not to step on any toes. I can see that those involved, specifically Mercury’s bandmates, wanted to make a tribute and glorify him. Alas, this makes for an average movie.
I also have to point out certain scenes were made up entirely or moved around the timeline so the themes can be enhanced. It made me chuckle when I got home and looked up the true events, but Hollywood gonna Hollywood so how much it bothers you may vary.
I’m gonna have to get serious for a wee bit regarding Mercury’s bisexuality. The film does address it, but it is dyed in a tone of shame. Literally, there is a scene where Mercury is walking through a leather gay club and the frame is just dyed red. I can’t confidently say how Mercury felt about his promiscuous clubbing and drug use, but the film portrays that side of his life in a somewhat negative light. Personally, I am at odds with this. Speaking as a bisexual man in the year 2018, I take for granted how I can be able to casually speak about my sexuality with confidence. Seeing Mercury’s sexuality in that sort of light does give me pause, but I also recognize that it was a different time for gay and bisexual men. It was a time when one can only express themselves in the shadows. It doesn’t help that for most of the film, the queer moments are more “tell don’t show” when it comes to Mercury himself. There are a few tame male kisses and some glances/winks but nothing as explicit as Mercury in bed with a man. This goes back to the film itself is made to be as accessible for mainstream audiences as possible. It doesn’t help that Mercury’s lover in his last days, Jim Hutton, plays a minimal part in the film. I feel it would have added more to see Freddie in a positive gay relationship for queer audiences, but it is left as a footnote before the credits. Freddie Mercury is a queer icon, and I can understand why the queer audience would be bitter about this film.
Bohemian Rhapsody is definitely a sort of propaganda. It deifies Freddie Mercury and merely glimpses at the unsavory parts of his eccentric life. However, I went in with that expectation going in. The end product wasn’t bad, but I feel I got more from watching several Queen documentaries when I got home. The Live Aid scene is a blast, and it captures the power and scope Queen’s music had on the world at large. If you are curious, it is definitely worth the matinee or a rental.
ALSO… I honestly can’t tell if bands have similar falling outs or if Hollywood shoots these falling outs in ridiculously similar ways.