There are stories that deserve to be told, and then there’s stories that deserve to be told right. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – the biopic of Queen and its larger-than-life front man, Freddie Mercury – is one that deserves the latter.
Unfortunately, it appears director Bryan Singer and writers Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan don’t feel that way, opting instead for a clunky, slapdash tale that’s relatively easy on the eyes, but almost completely devoid of emotion and substance.
Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury), and Joe Mazzello (John Deacon) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (Photo Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox; TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.)
The story is told with the band’s legendary 1985 Live Aid performance serving as bookends. It starts with the band – Mercury (Rami Malek), Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) – taking the stage at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Roughly two hours later the film winds its way back to Wembley for an overly long recreation of the performance.
In between is what can be best described as a series of vignettes that shows how Mercury ended up in the band; his complicated relationship with his family and “soulmate,” Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton); his sexual orientation; the band’s struggles with his ever-increasing ego; and, of course, just how each and every big Queen single came to be.
I won’t go so far as to say the scenes showing how the songs came to be were amateurish, but they were incredibly corny and hackneyed.
Joe Mazzello (John Deacon), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury), and Gwilym Lee (Brian May) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (Photo by Alex Bailey; TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.)
As an example, if this were a Nirvana biopic, you’d see a scene where Kurt Cobain was talking to Dave Grohl about an early “Nevermind” rehearsal in a small, hot studio. The band would finish playing a still-unnamed song that they’re obviously very proud of. They’d finish and look at each other, shrug, and one of them would joke, “Smells like Teen Spirit in here.” It would then cut to the band playing the song in front of a packed stadium.
While that’s an extreme and unrelated example, it’s exactly the kind of poor writing that plagues “Bohemian Rhapsody” for its entire 134 minutes.
Actually, that’s not entirely true, because the last 20ish minutes is little more than a shot-for-shot rehashing of the Live Aid performance … only not as good.
Honestly, if I wanted to watch Queen’s Live Aid set, I’d go online and watch Queen’s Live Aid set.
This was obviously little more than time-filler and an excuse to use IMAX technology to show “Movie Queen” in a stadium of 70,000+ people singing, swaying and showering the band with love.
On top of that, there’s serious issues with things just being wrong or manipulated to tell a narrative that may or may not have been there.
The most glaring are that the band was on an extended hiatus prior to Live Aid so Mercury could record solo records, when they’d actually just finished up a tour a couple of months before. The other, which we’ll call “the biggie,” is that Mercury disclosed his HIV positive diagnosis to the band prior to Live Aid. In 1985. When he wasn’t actually diagnosed until 1987.
I expected much more from this creative team than this – McCarten wrote “The Theory of Everything” and “Darkest Hour,” Morgan had a hand in “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen.” They’ve combined for five Academy Award nominations. Add that to the guy that directed “The Usual Suspects,” and you should have gold. But you don’t.
Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Joe Mazzello (John Deacon), and Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (Photo by Alex Bailey; TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.)
The only positive from the entire movie is Malek’s performance as Mercury. He looks the part, he sounds the part, he moves the part … he essentially is the part. At times (not all, but most), you forgot that you weren’t actually watching the real thing. He was that good, and is undeniably deserving of any accolades he receives.
But that’s it. There’s no other reason to see the movie – there’s nothing here that can’t be learned through Wikipedia, which, even with its lax system of fact-checking and editing, is probably still more accurate than this film.
Do yourself a favor: stay home, grab a drink, and listen to your favorite Queen record instead.
★ of ★★★★★