Published on October 30th, 2018 | by Dan Nicholls0
Can anybody find me a Queen movie to love? Even with Malek’s inspired casting, Bohemian Rhapsody falls into most of the old familiar biopic traps.
Every single person on the planet loves Queen. By the time a child can sing along to a nursery rhyme, they’re ready for Queen. My dad is a music fanatic and he got me juicing on Queen by the time I was six. The band is simply timeless. Just like it is with The Tragically Hip, you’ve gotta be a real asshole if you don’t like Queen.
The long-gestating biopic of that essential group, Bohemian Rhapsody, is undeserving of association with the band’s good name. At worst it’s like the ‘Drunk History’ retelling of The Story of Queen, at best it’s a medium-hot imitation of something that can’t be imitated. Despite how fascinating Freddie Mercury was, Bohemian Rhapsody barely exposes what’s underneath the surface. For a man so deep it’s a shame we don’t get to understand what made him tick.
After the opening credits we are instantaneously introduced to Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, the men who would be Queen. We see the band formed, named, and recording their debut LP all within the first reel. There’s a lot of history to go through for sure but expediency comes at the cost of characterization and audience connection here. The film expects that our real-life adoration of the band will compensate for the filmmakers’ shortcomings.
The band members frequently remind us that they’re a Family with a Toretto-sized F. The problem with this is that Freddie, Brian, Roger, and John start uttering the word in their second or third scene together in the film. Bohemian Rhapsody basically reads out bullet points verbatim and doesn’t give us any insight into who these people are. I know as much about Brian May after seeing this movie as I did before it. He plays guitar. That’s about all I got.
Malek is formidable and arguably the best thing the movie has going for it but he’s still playing the man as an imitation that veers, thanks to hackneyed dialogue and misguided direction, at brief moments into caricature. Complete dedication and bravery keeps the Emmy-winner’s head above water but a more thoughtful script and delicate direction would have guaranteed Malek’s Mercury would forever leave a mark.
Mike Myers appears in this movie to remind you that a lot of millennials really discovered “Bohemian Rhapsody” thanks to Wayne’s World. We’re grateful for that but it would’ve been nice to keep his distracting mugging out of the way. Myers can only perform from behind a mask but he just doesn’t have the acting chops to warrant our patience with his gimmicks; he doesn’t exactly share the screen with his colleagues here. I’ll take a Shrek Pleads the Fifth if it means no more stunts like this.
Bohemian Rhapsody is at its best during concert scenes that feel as spirited and energized as the real thing (until you notice the shoddy CGI crowd simulations bobbing indistinctively in the background). The sequences of musical creation when all four members collaborate in the studio are also highlights. These parts make the movie ever so slightly recommendable on a surface level intended for a big screen with a big, loud sound system. It brings you to your feet in the final stretch but the melodrama leading up to it doesn’t have a whiff of truth or authenticity. This would’ve made for a great 40-minute IMAX docudrama.
It isn’t the job of a biopic like this to present the details in an historically accurate manner. What’s most important is that we’re given an impactful interpretation of who the people are, even if what they did gets fudged along the way. But Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t even try to make an effort to adhere to a timeline of factual representation so much to the point that it’s outright shocking.
Perhaps the most disturbing manipulation of events is that Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis occurs right before Queen’s immortal Live Aid performance in 1985. In real life, that diagnosis didn’t happen until two years later in 1987. It’s a conniving, gross move that betrays the integrity of what the actual band was trying to accomplish with the performance at Live Aid.
This was one problematic production from inception (it was originally announced in 2010). Director Bryan Singer was fired halfway through and replaced by a guy named Dexter Fletcher, which didn’t help the already chaotic and unfocused narrative. Singer receives sole credit, though Fletcher gets an Executive Producer consolation title. Here’s hoping Fletcher picked up some lessons of what not to do so his next biopic of a classic rock icon, Elton John, doesn’t crash and burn like Bohemian Rhapsody. At the very least he needs to do away with this film’s ugly cinematography and obnoxious transitions and graphics.
Queen’s albums make a catalogue for the ages and no half-assed Hollywood mediocrity like Bohemian Rhapsody is going to change that. It would’ve been nice to have a feature film companion piece to stand proudly alongside it, but we’ve got to chalk this one up as another opportunity wasted. Come for the rocking concert recreations, stay for them too.