Bohemian Rhapsody is everything a musical biopic shouldn’t be. It takes one of the most beloved singers of all time and presents us with the most superficial, surface-level glimpse into his life that happily takes creative liberties for the sake of condensing fifteen years’ worth of events into a traditional three-act structure. It reeks of the fingerprints of Brian May and Roger Taylor, ensuring the film remains as bland and generic as possible as to not alienate any potential Queen fans by looking into Freddie Mercury’s more controversial personal life, even though that would have made for a significantly more interesting film. For all its talk about how revolutionary the title song was, it’s a shame the film itself is about as safe as a biopic can get.
The joy Bohemian Rhapsody takes in rolling out the typical clichés is at best groan-inducing and at worst borderline offensive. The disapproving parents who dismiss a career as a singer as nothing more than a fantasy, check. The band breaking up only to get back together just in time for the big concert, check. Showing the film’s lead character doing the things he was famous for doing without looking into why he did them, check about ten times over.
Subtly is a concept Bohemian Rhapsody seem unfamiliar with. Mercury watches his former partner Paul Prenter give an interview that reveals his sexual escapades to the public, all the while ‘Under Pressure’ plays in the background (because he’s under pressure, did that come across?). The head of EMI records dismisses the idea that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ will be a popular song, the film stopping just short of Mercury winking at the camera while the audience quietly giggle to themselves.
The film suffers from some major pacing issues as well. Director Bryan Singer (and an uncredited Dexter Fletcher following trouble behind the scenes) races through major plot points like he’s a Formula 1 driver going for a world record. Queen go from a no-name band playing in the local pub to performing in sold out concert halls across the country in the space of ten minutes. An abrupt ‘one year later’ following Queen’s first performance seems to exist solely so Singer doesn’t have to spend time developing the relationships between all four band members, or between Mercury and his lifelong partner Mary Austin. Poor John Deacon doesn’t even get the honour of an introduction, he just spontaneously appears when the plot demands it.
Thank god for Rami Malek, who captures Mercury’s immense charisma and stage presence with such accuracy there are moments when you could swear you were watching the real person. It is a brilliant performance, and under any other script would likely be a frontrunner for awards galore. The only issue is the singing, a bizarre mix between Malek, Mercury and an impersonator, not helped by some laughably bad lip-syncing at points.
I’m giving this film two stars, one for Malek’s performance and the other for the soundtrack, the latter of which almost feels like cheating. If it wasn’t for them this film would be utterly worthless. The best I can say is it leaves me with faith that a truly great Freddie Mercury biopic is still possible; a more adult orientated look into his life along the lines of Sacha Baron Cohen’s ill-fated attempt to make this film. Don’t waste your time on the version we got. If you’re at all curious you can easily recreate the experience of watching Bohemian Rhapsody by listening to a Queen Greatest Hits album while skimming their Wikipedia page.