It’s fair to say that you’ll be pressed to find someone who isn’t familiar with legendary rock songs like “We Are the Champions” or “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The universal fame associated with the 70s British rock band Queen, makes their story an obvious centerpiece for a musical biopic. However if the purpose of a biopic is to dramatize the lives or life of a real person, Bohemian Rhapsody struggles to meet that standard.
The film opens in 1985 at Wembley Stadium, moments before Queen takes the stage at the historic Live Aid benefit concert. Almost immediately you’re taken on a ride through the previous decade as they gain popularity and tour across the world creating their unique sound. You’re given full access to their writing and recording sessions, but for as much as this film feels like an origin story about the band; it’s actually about their front man. Freddie Mercury joins a small rock band without a lead singer and develops his extravagant showmanship that made him such an iconic figure. This film also spends a significant amount of time with the relationships that provided him with strength and acceptance, as well as those that led him down a destructive path.
Unless you’re a particularly large fan of Queen, you probably know as much about them as I did coming into this. My biggest issue with the screenplay written by Anthony McCarten is that I didn’t learn anything. I wish I could say that the film provided details about the band or even the front man that I hadn’t known before. Instead I spent over two hours watching a series of scenes that more often than not felt all too manufactured and convenient. There is no personal context given especially when it comes to the characters. It would have been helpful had it offered some sort of understanding about the history behind Mercury’s theatrical style. Very little is provided in the way of emotional depth for any of the characters, this is a real misstep since Freddie Mercury’s life was quite interesting and dramatic. Sadly I left the theater knowing just as much about Queen as I did before.
Normally I would say that this makes for an unpleasant viewing experience but Bohemian Rhapsody is the rare exception. The screenplay may have issues but you can certainly look past it because the music is just so good! It’s almost impossible not to nod your head with the beat of the drums and fight the urge to sing along. In those moments you forget what came before and that’s probably a good thing. Another component that adds to this is Rami Malek’s performance. Like I said I’m not overly familiar with Queen’s backstory and have only seen short clips of Freddie Mercury. Malek manages to embody him in a way that is borderline uncanny during his onstage performances. It’s Mercury’s distinctive voice that you’re hearing but Malek flawlessly mimics his movements in those scenes. His impression is an accomplishment worthy of recognition. This was my first experience with Malek in a lead role and after watching this I’m optimistic about his future. This can also be said for Lucy Boynton who plays Mary Austin, Mercury’s former fiancé and lifelong friend. As an actor she wasn’t doing anything overly interesting with her character but something about her captured my attention. The scenes between her and Malek were the strongest in the film; it’s unfortunate that there wasn’t more time spent exploring their complicated romance and friendship.
Bohemian Rhapsody is the not the worst film this year but it most certainly isn’t the best. In its entirety this feels like a missed opportunity. Thankfully Queen’s music is a lot of fun so if you ignore its issues, you can still have a good time.
3 out of 5 stars
Director: Bryan Singer Writer: Anthony McCarten (story and screenplay by), Peter Morgan (story by) Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech Release Date: November 2nd Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2 hours and 14 minutes