Review: Bohemian Rhapsody
Bohemian Rhapsody is the kind of film that Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was lampooning. If the film is to believed, it would seem that Queen's trajectory follows the formula of a VH1 Behind the Music episode. This feels at odds with a band that was defined by how non-formulaic they were. The band behind the song Bohemian Rhapsody was not like anyone else in rock at the time, or since. The film Bohemian Rhapsody is like any generic music biopic you have seen.
This is a pretty big disappointment given how much there was to play within this story. Freddy Mercury was a true original. The band constantly reinvented its sound. So why does the film follow such a template? That template begins with a naive talent who breaks away from his disapproving, rigid family, then rises to fame quickly, and then loses himself in drugs and ego stroking. Of course, the collapse is followed by a comeback that rights what is wrong.
Playing like a greatest hits collection of Queen's big moments, the film opens with Mercury joining a band the night they lose their lead singer. Soon after, they form into Queen and begin touring. The film rockets across their rise to fame in silly montage after silly montage before slowing down a bit to focus on the recording of A Night at the Opera. This is the film's best section as we see them push and fight to make an album that pushed them to creative new heights. Then the film speeds up again to watch Mercury's downfall as he drinks himself into depression and takes a solo deal that ends Queen's run. The pace of the film never allows for any connection to the emotional journey of Mercury. This is a shame because his story is rich with cultural defiance, sexual awakening and the tole of the AIDS epidemic. In the final act, the film crams in one day Freddie finding a man he spent years looking for, a reconciliation with his estranged family and the famous Live Aid concert. It is a ludicrous timeline.
While Bohemian Rhapsody is formulaic and empty, it isn't without some worth-seeing elements. Rami Malik transforms himself into Freddy Mercury. He gets every gesture and pose down perfectly. It is a shame that the screenplay doesn't give him more to do internally. The performance is undermined by the lack of more insight into what drove the man. For example, his complicated sexuality is rarely explored.
The other rousing element in the film is the recreation of Queen's Live Aid performance. The final 30 minutes of the film is dedicated to it. While I would argue watching the actual performance would be time better spent but there is no denying that this is a thrilling recreation ripe for the big screen. Director Bryan Singer captures the energy of a rock concert in a way that will transport you.
Sadly that is about all there is to recommend in Bohemian Rhapsody. The music is, of course, great and Malik shines but I left the film having no better insight or understanding of the band. I think a biopic should offer something up more than just some concert scenes and generic plot structure. The film is laced with humor but often it is groan-inducing such as having Mike Myers play a record executive who doesn't believe young men will drive around in a car, head-banging to a song like Bohemian Rhapsody. Does a film about such a dynamic band and person such as Mercury need a Wayne's World reference? I don't believe so.