What does one want out of a Freddy Mercury biopic? When you push past all of the other issues this film has -- from Bryan Singer's problematic presence and dramatic leave-of-absence, to the film's problematic revisionism -- this is the question that lingers. This is also the question that has divided critics and audiences, with the former (in my view) wanting a film about Mercury, and the latter wanting a biopic about Queen.
Those are two very different things. After all, Mercury was not defined by his time with Queen, though his place as their frontman was certainly important. With Bohemian Rhapsody, Singer and his team (including Fletcher, who finished up the last few weeks of principal photography after Singer left the project), seem as though they want to have their cake and eat it, too. In attempting to mix the difficult personal life of the enigmatic Mercury with the crowd-pleasing performances of popular Queen songs, Bohemian Rhapsody feels like a muddled mess of pulled punches.
It cannot go without mentioning that Bohemian Rhapsody has issues beyond the film itself. The decision to use Queen's most iconic live performance -- Live Aid -- as an integral, and emotional, part of the plot, effectively revising the truth and changing history, is one that I could not condemn stronger. Biopics have always played fast and loose with the truth (such is the nature of creative liberty), but it is disrespectful toward the icon the film is exploring. In addition to that, the usage of Live Aid as this profound moment, as a reunion concert, is also untrue. The usage of Live Aid just manipulative, to put it as bluntly as possible, and with that it’s difficult to take this film as the truthful and complex biopic it claims to be.
This speaks, as I mentioned before, to the desire this team has to both tell the honest story of Freddie Mercury and to have a crowd-pleasing climax.
Bryan Singer is lucky that Queen and Mercury are as important as they are. The film itself feels undefined from the multitude of other musical biopics; in fact. As another critic, David Ehrlich, pointed out in his review, this film could have been about any band. It follows the same structure as every other biopic (though, as mentioned before, with some detours), and it comes across less as an honest exploration of Mercury, and more as an opportunity to play Queen's greatest hits.
The diamond in the rough, here, is Rami Malek. Despite the shortcomings of the script, he manages to turn in an energetic performance as Freddie, and it shows on screen. His most impressive moments are when he is off-stage, though. HIs tumultuous relationship with Mary Austin (played impressively by Lucy Boynton) feels earnest and honest. It also, thankfully, is very true to their real relationship; a rare glimpse of honesty in this biopic.
The supporting cast, unfortunately, is never written with the care that Malek and Boynton receive. Some of them, like Ray Foster (played by Mike Myers) feel silly and disrespectful.
It's easy to be seduced by the charm of Queen's music and Malek's performance. As someone who grew up listening to classic Queen albums, I had to resist that urge myself. Queen will always remain one of the most seminal rock groups ever to form, and Freddie Mercury will always be an important figure for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as one of the best frontman rock as ever seen. If the goal was to humanize Mercury, though, then nobody -- except for Rami Malek -- who worked on this film should be patting themselves on the back.
At best, Bohemian Rhapsody integrates complex elements of Mercury's personality into a film about Queen; at worst, it changes history to maintain the legendary star power of its subjects. Thus, its subject is not Mercury, but rather Queen and their fame. That, when pushing aside all other faults, is the gangrenous wound that rots this film from its core.
“BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY” ★★
directed by BRYAN SINGER & DEXTER FLETCHER
written by ANTHONY McCARTEN
released on November 2, 2018 || Rated PG-13 || 134 MIN