DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer / Dexter Fletcher STARRING: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers UK/USA 2018
Ah, biopics. The safe 10-buck Oscar bait handjob that, more often than not, freely takes liberties with a true story with the same nonchalance of a found footage horror flick. There should be no need to do such a thing when your film is about someone as interesting as Freddie Mercury, and yet Bohemian Rhapsody screws up the chronology and facts about the man and the band Queen. I was lucky enough to watch the film with a big fan of the artists, who told me the real stories behind events portrait in the film, but if I hadn’t, I would have been terribly misinformed. The worst of it is that the facts are often changed so that there can be a stronger emotional impact on the narrative, but the real circumstances surrounding the band were already enticing enough to make a lot of the most important scenes compelling and tense. There was no need to change things that much.
Historical inaccuracies aside, Bohemian Rhapsody botches its chances of being a truly great biopic in plenty of other ways. The development of the band is extremely rushed, for instance. It would appear as if Queen got successful rather quickly, but after their first three records and not that much success, the band was desperate and in deep debt. The story told in this film sees them living a fantastical dream where they put all of their money into the recording of an album, quickly get discovered by a great manager, and “BOOM”, they are touring the globe and recording “A Night At The Opera” soon enough. It’s the most clichéd “rise and fall” story format you can possibly find. If the filmmakers (two, thanks to the film’s rather troubled production history) had wisely chosen not to try to reproduce nearly the entirety of the bloody Live Aid concert, and had used that time to develop the band properly with real stories, maybe this wouldn’t have been such a shit-show of a script. And to add insult to injury, there is a really noticeable amount of green screen in the film’s final sequence that could have been avoided if the shots had been a little more thought out.
That’s not to say the film is all terrible, because it isn’t. The film’s saving grace is Rami Malek, who delivers one of this year’s best and most electrifying performances, and the physical characterization of all the members of Queen is astonishing (and I say “physical” because the surviving members of Queen had a role as creative consultants and, of course, there’s very little in the way of personality flaws shown in Bohemian Rhapsody). Most of the humor also lands quite well, and the dramatic moments are strong and effective, there’s no denying it. It’s just a shame that they had to be built on things that didn’t happen the same way they are presented.
A lot of Bohemian Rhapsody seems to genuinely come from a place of love and respect for Freddie Mercury and the legacy of Queen, and it’s surprising that the film got to actually be made and released after its hellish production. Props to them for it. But people normally don’t hold on to their participation trophies for a reason, and the film’s only true “champion” is Malek. Bohemian Rhapsody could have been a lot more, and more than being a mediocre film, it’s very disappointing.