Following the rise of the arena rock band whom we have to thank for the titular song, along with a slew of rock and genre-bending classics, “Bohemian Rhapsody” regularly posits that what makes Queen so great is they can’t be defined as one thing, and that nobody truly knows Queen — they only know the perception.
Unfortunately, for the spots of greatness captured on film by this movie, it sadly falls into that trap of celebrating the idea of Queen without meaningfully studying them. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is an average-at-best film that commits the painful sin of being a pastiche of biopic clichés stitched together in a way that clearly illustrates better movies this material could have been tailored to make, all at odds with one another.
Rami Malek’s name is bound to be the number one thing mentioned in discussion of this movie and with damn good reason; his uncanny capture of the late Freddie Mercury’s essence throughout his brief lifetime is almost Oscar worthy and bound to put his career on the map once and for all if it wasn’t already on the upswing. Unfortunately, it’s a performance let down by a slew of narrative, technical and screenplay shortcomings at best and an absolute chore to sit through at worst. Central to “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” identity crisis is the failure to truly settle on focus. It’s a good thing that Malek knocks his take on Mercury out of the park because everybody that isn’t Mercury gets the shaft in a way that’s borderline offensive. Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzello play fellow band members Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon. Though their performances are excellent, they’re never allowed to build compelling or cohesive arcs because they don’t exist within a capacity that goes beyond the direct narrative of Freddie Mercury or Queen itself.
Despite the frequent positing of the band being a family and the framing of Mercury seeking a place to belong with the group that fed his bloating ego, his perspective is the only one that doesn’t feel manufactured to the point where major swaths of the movie make less sense as it goes along.
The titular song is regularly made out to be a masterpiece of musical composition, poking fun at its modern day appraisal without accounting for the critical lambasting it received at its release which was a substantial setback to Queen’s career that's never properly addressed in favor of making Queen and, above all else, Mercury appear in the right. One may then be tempted to think that perhaps the movie is more of a Freddie Mercury biopic but the perspective of outside parties and the movie’s attempt to be a giant self-celebration of the band itself leads to many aspects of Malek’s performance falling to the wayside. Without appropriate context, these aspects can feel bold in their effort to be depicted but painful in the landing they stick. The notion of Mercury seeking an understanding family rings rather hollow when his own family isn’t depicted as being outright dismissive of him, while insufficient characterization of his bandmates leaves him with an alternative that isn’t as powerful as the movie seems to think.
Perhaps the most audacious failing of the movie is their portrayal of Mercury’s sexuality, which at first attempts to reconcile what we know of the man’s private affairs under a suitable bisexual label, only to renege on said decision to define him as the gay man he is often assumed to be, while troublingly framing most of his behavior and indulgence as self destructive. I’m not going to say I was offended by the amateurish depiction of this as the downfall of his career and mental state when it wasn’t in reality but I can’t blame anybody looking up to him as an icon for feeling so themselves. That last point is the fatal blow of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” as failing to be a compelling drama about Mercury or the dynamic of the band itself, the movie does seem to be a good celebration of their music and impact.
Performances are on point and the concert sequences are generally fun, but dig deeper and the mounting inconsistencies — ranging from music that’s out of place, to events portrayed years before they were supposed to be, and the bigger stadium scenes where the copy and paste effect on a digitally enhanced crowd is jarringly pronounced — point to an insincerity that spits in the face of Queen in favor of making a dollar off of gullible fans that religiously worship a handful of their music.
All the film’s ups and downs crescendo at the two hour mark of a movie in desperate need of trimming, where they decide not to end on some sort of powerhouse performance or moment of effective drama but on a bad 10-minute recreation of Queen’s Live Aid concert — the catalyst of which was set into motion by Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis, which didn’t happen until a year and a half after said performance.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” isn't impossible to enjoy, but the cynicism and recklessness sitting at its core will do little to endear it beyond a certain crowd of Queen fans, despite Malek’s breakout performance.
2 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.