Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

bohemian

It’s a kind of Malek (sorry): GK Films/New Regency Pictures

Well I’ve finally watched BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, and it’s fine. But doesn’t such an icon as Freddie Mercury deserve a little more than just fine?

Before they were legends of rock, Queen were experimental unknowns with a dentally challenged lead singer from Zanzibar. Freddie Mercury’s (Rami Malek) vocal gymnastics and the band’s sheer talent and memorability brought them success around the world, but not without a cost.

To be honest, after all the behind-the-scenes drama, I’m amazed the film has turned out as coherent as it has. It’s not a particularly revelatory take on the band’s formation, ups or downs, but it moves along briskly enough.

Malek absolutely nails Freddy’s physicality and he has presence even if the script doesn’t really allow for him to explore any hidden depths. It’s not all about the frontman, though his private life takes up a good amount of the screentime, and in fact the film works better as a biopic of Queen the band. The scenes in the recording studio and the unconventional techniques employed to produce their unique sound, particularly for their first mega-hit album “Night at the Opera” are a treat for any fans of the band.

The film’s best material is the obsessively detailed recreation of Queen’s live performances. The Live Aid set piece at the end crackles with energy and the dynamic cinematography is pleasing, though the effects used to recreate the stadium and crowds could have probably done with another pass, having not quite lost their CG-sheen.

Fear not, Mercury’s sexuality is not glossed over as was earlier rumoured. Whether this was changed in re-shoots after the damaging early press coverage is unclear, but what we see is an explicitly bisexual Freddie. What we actually see is pretty tame, but we will likely never get the warts and all exploration of his sexual excesses (that originally cast Sacha Baron Cohen reportedly wanted to get into) while his bandmates are still alive.

Having Queen keeping such a close eye on everything has sapped so much life out of this film. I get them wanting to protect their late friend’s legacy and wanting equal credit for the band’s success, but when you’re stopping your film dead to cut to May (Gwilym Lee) or Taylor (Ben Hardy) nodding encouragement (understandably lampooned already on Twitter) or reminding the audience for the fifth time that they were well-educated guys in addition to being rockstars, then you’ve got a problem.

Did they really put Mike Myers in this just to have an excuse for a cheap WAYNE’S WORLD joke? I think they did.

Thank goodness that Queen single-handedly saved Live Aid and ended hunger in Africa. Elton J-who? David Bo-why? Just in case you’re not swept up by the showmanship and the crowd’s roars weren’t clue enough that this was the best act of the day, the point is hammered home by charity types forlornly manning the silent phones until Queen take to the stage and open the public’s hearts. It’s this kind of hagiography that is so often the result of people making films about themselves and their mates.

I can’t get too worked up about much of this. What I struggle with is using Freddy Mercury’s HIV-positive diagnosis to give them all the impetus to take the gig. I think they actually took the job because not doing so when every other big name in British music was making an appearance would look bad. Never mind dramatic licence, that just feels a little bit icky.

I’d have preferred to feel stronger either way about Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s far from an insult to Freddie Mercury’s memory and it does celebrate Queen’s music in energetic fashion. But where’s the heart? Where’s the nuance? Where’s the storytelling beats not copied wholesale from Every Music Biopic Ever? SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Bong Joon-ho, Danny Boyle, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi and Edgar Wright. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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