The best that can be said of the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, is that Rami Malek is fun to watch as Freddie Mercury. He has a lot of the power and vibrancy to rock the stage as the music legend who parades in tight pants and uses the microphone like a baton. That’s all well and good for a Queen tribute of sorts but it’s a bit of a shame that this movie only delivers the bare bones of the story behind the mustache and doesn’t bother to shake them as well as Malek can shake his pelvis.
A major problem for a film such as this is that it spends more time pleasing the audience than digging deep into Mercury’s sordid history that led to him becoming a rock icon. We cover the basics of the initial meeting with guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), proving that he has a strong enough voice to overlook his massive teeth. He also fancies the lovely Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) who he will soon marry. You’ll just have to trust they have a romantic relationship off camera as the film is far too busy whipping away to the band’s first album recording, forming the genesis of those familiar Queen tunes we’ve grown to love. Those only coming for the greatest hits can rest easy that the film will cover all the Queen classics.
And, unfortunately, that’s all the movie really seems to offer that has the most power. All the juicier aspects of drama are glazed over, performing a light dance amid eggshells of Freddie’s life. His bisexuality? Only glanced in his evolution of an alluring truck driver and smirking when his manager makes a move on him. His loneliness? Only touched briefly before he heads back to the studio and stage for another song. His AIDS? Treated like just another bullet point that Freddie tosses aside since there’s not much movie left to explore that topic. A lot of dialogue has to carry his progression as well, considering two characters will have to state how Freddie is working himself raw with a solo album rather than showing that draining nature on his face.
Without the drama, the Queen movie resorts to little more than winks and references to keep the docile of Queen fans entertained if not intrigued. Remember how the song Bohemian Rhapsody was such a long and unorthodox song that it wouldn’t crack the charts for years? Mike Myers pops up as a record executive to state how teenagers will never headbang in their cars to Bohemian Rhapsody. Get it? Because the song became popular with Wayne’s World? It sounds more like a skit from Saturday Night Live, to the point where I’m surprised Mike didn’t slip into a smirk upon uttering the joke. And there are plenty more jabs where that one came from if those kinds of easy jokes are your thing in a film with conflicting relationships, sexuality, and vices.
The film seems to almost out of mercy divorce itself from any plot in the fourth act and just stage a recreation of the Queen Live Aid performance. While it’s certainly well shot and Malek remains a highlight of the show, the lingering nature of the camera suggests that this film lacks as much direction as it does grit. It doesn’t have the guts to go for deeper and more chilling aspects and resorts to tedious montages of Freddie’s journey amid the next song, transforming the picture at times into a random series of ho-hum music videos.
While I would say Bohemian Rhapsody is a musical biopic better built for the timid older audience than the curious youngsters, I wonder how willing they are to go for the tame ride. During a scene where Freddie first kisses his manager and giddily admits that others only love him for the fame, I could hear a grumpy codger behind me vocally groaning for a full minute that there’s gayness in this movie. He would do so again with every gay makeout scene. And I had to wonder if the studio rep’s standard script of not revealing spoilers about the movie was referring to this aspect, as though it’d be a shock to the uneducated Queen listeners that its lead singer was homosexual. Because at the end of the day, that may be the most fascinating aspect of the film, where the uninformed will learn the most. In which case, BELATED SPOILER WARNING, Rami Malek kisses a dude. Keep that in mind when attending this theatrical tribute of Queen’s greatest hits with a TV-movie script on Freddie Mercury wedged in between.