Bohemian Rhapsody (aka Untitled Freddie Mercury Biopic) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I had an interesting theater experience while watching Bohemian Rhapsody. During a scene where Freddy Mercury first makes out with his personal manager, an older gentleman behind me could be heard moaning and groaning in disbelief, as though Mercury’s bisexuality was a mere footnote of his career that didn’t play a major role and the movie was trying to amp it up. But it’s the opposite in fact as the movie turns in a rather watered down retrospective of the story behind the rock legend Queen. Perhaps this was what the marketing rep meant when he read the boilerplate of not to spoil the movie before release. Maybe a lot of older folks would be coming into this movie cold, only known Queen from the radio and not being prepared for the story behind the music they love to listen to in the car or at sports games.
Rami Malek plays the role of Freddy Mercury and while he overplays the exuberant nature, there’s an undeniable energy to his performance. It’s tough to gauge him, however, as the movie never slows down to explore him past his musical exploits, covering the more intimate moments with all the grace of C- book report. Freddy meets the guitarists and drummer who would help form the band Queen and we quickly cut to their rising in the ranks. He has a woman he loves and will soon marry but you’ll just have to trust there’s some chemistry which isn’t present on the screen. There’s no time for exploring Freddy’s romance when there’s music to be made. There’s very little time for anything that the entire Queen story seems to be told in disconnecting bullet points, which is not a good thing when the film runs 2½ hours and still hardly scratches the surface of its subject.
The film, unfortunately, spends too much time on the music as though a greatest hits tape was jammed in the deck and won’t shut off when we want it to. Again, maybe this is a means of easing the lesser accepting crowd into the rocky road of Freddy’s struggle with sexuality, partying, and his eventual discovery he has (SPOILERS) AIDS. Oh, were you grossed out by Freddy kissing a dude? Don’t worry, grandpa; here’s a louder theatrical version of “Somebody to Love.” Remember that song? How about “We Will Rock You”? And there’s plenty more where that came from as the film continuously pads itself out with Queen music in the form of montages, before eventually giving up on the story and showcasing nearly the entire Live Aid performance as a climax.
Most peculiar about the film is how it tries too hard to be an audience pleaser for the music, yes, but also the comedy. There’s a handful of scenes meant to showcase the silly as well as being odd additions of foreboding. In a scene that seems better written for a Saturday Night Live skit, Mike Myers appears in the film as a record executive who criticizes the band’s latest song of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” commenting on how teenage boys will never headbang in their cars to such a song. I’m surprised the film didn’t decide to spell this out more plainly by cutting to Myers in Wayne’s World doing the act he is referring to.
You won’t learn much about Queen in this film that a quick zip over to Wikipedia or a biography would reveal. You won’t get a fantastic performance out of Malek past the musical showcase, which he’s certainly skilled at, but there’s little room to explore the dramatic aspect when the editing keeps whipping away to the next musical set piece. So unless you really dig the music of Queen, to the point where you’re willing to sacrifice the story behind Mercury’s fall with vice, Bohemian Rhapsody comes off as little more than a big-budget movie of the week for VH1. I find it’s best served as a soft bio for the older crowd, perhaps easing them into the acceptance that Freddy Mercury was bisexual.