By: Dakota Gordon
Not to completely rip off the intro sentence from my last review, but I’m a bit of a fan of Queen. I remember fondly the days as a child when I would ride in my mother’s car, going anywhere and everywhere in-between, listening to the Queen’s Greatest Hits album, which included songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and “We Are the Champions.” I could say that Queen has been with me for as long as I can remember, despite the death of the band’s famous frontman, Freddie Mercury, happening prior to my birth. When I first saw a trailer for an upcoming biopic on the life of Freddie Mercury, it was inevitable that I would eventually watch it. And here we are.
Unfortunately, the creativity normally injected into each of Queen’s albums did not resonate within the inner workings of the film inspired by it. Putting the major criticism up front and center at the very beginning, Bohemian Rhapsody is a very by-the-numbers biopic and general outlook on the life of Freddie Mercury and the birth of Queen. Bereft of detail—despite its somewhat long runtime—it manages to do what it can to persuade the audience of Queen’s importance in rock history and little more.
It’s ironic that Freddie and his band-mates within the film spit upon the use of formulas in their musical tracks, as the film itself is incredibly formulaic. There is the beginning, which delivers the introduction, the fateful get-together, and the rise from the underground. There is the middle, where things trend upwards and downwards concerning the course of the band’s history, leading to an inevitable struggle that has the band breaking from the inside. Then there is the end, where all things come together and the band shines brighter upon the biggest stage of its career. Scattered throughout are one of two things: the rise of Queen and the fall of Freddie Mercury. To some extent, I wish they would have focused on one or the other.
When the film decides to focus on the inner anxieties of Mercury’s person, it becomes somewhat interesting, but also jarring (more on that later). Blending within the formulaic pace of the film, his personality is quirky and easy to like within the beginning, when the drama is well and away. Upon his “climax,” if you will, his behavior is not only predictable, but boring compared to how it once was, too carelessly willing to resort to the same clichés that happen to rock stars who develop some need to escape their demons.
What’s left over is his relation to his band and band-mates, both of which are so glossed over that we never get to even know his band-mates outside of their names and base personalities. For the first twenty minutes of the film, I was flabbergasted with just how quickly and how well things were coming together for them, with everything going practically right without a shred of tension or patience; as if the film wanted the band to be together as quickly as possible in order to get to what they really wanted to show.
What makes this worse is that the writing, in general, is subpar. Outside of “realistic,” there is nothing interesting about anyone other than Freddie Mercury. Many characters simply get tossed in at the most convenient circumstances to drive home a moral point or drama. One character is literally written like an evil villain, manipulating Mercury like a snake and smirking ominously whenever things go his way. Nice to know the film thinks that either I’m too stupid to realize he’s manipulative or that people can only default to completely good or bad. Very few moments stood out to me where I was pleasantly wrapped up in the immersive-ness of the characters’ words.
Of course, writing can only go so far when it comes to performances, and many do their roles perfectly well here. Of course, this film is more concerned with Freddie Mercury than everyone else, so it’s natural to say that Rami Malek did his part better than anyone else, granted he got every opportunity. I would say that he did perform it well—I particularly liked that he occasionally jutted out his front teeth while staring longingly or contemplating something: a gesture Mercury occasionally did. It’s that attention to detail that brings the Mercury onscreen to life. Otherwise, everyone else did what they had to.
What many (and perhaps I, to an extent) came for most of all, however, was to celebrate the legacy of Queen and its music. Bohemian Rhapsody does this wonderfully well, including the use of some different alterations of classics. I enjoyed seeing when these songs came up and how the band members thought about how to incorporate them into the shows (whether or not it was true to life, I’m unsure). The prize scene for musical glory and enthusiasm goes to the final scene of the film, where Queen famously got back together for the Live Aid concert of 1985. The energy, variety, and levels of triumph attributed to this one scene are enough to recommend the film just for that final performance; an absolutely rocking and exciting end to an otherwise ordinary film.
While I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, I was a little let down by the viewpoint in which the film took to tell Mercury’s story. I would’ve likely preferred if they tried to tell more about Mercury’s personal history and had his band’s success be more of a background process, or vice-versa. In this form, it’s a rough accumulation of trying to throw in everything, resulting in a potentially overlong, meandering experience that hits its best notes at the very end. There’s saving the best for last, and then there’s not being talented enough to do anything intriguing outside of showcasing Queen’s musical abilities.
Final Score: 5/10