Movie Review: "Bohemian Rhapsody" (2018)
There are very few genres of film that are as tricky to get right as the rockstar biopic. When you hit the right notes (see La Bamba, Selena, Straight Outta Compton) the experience is transcendent and moving. However, there is a very specific formula that Hollywood has been following for decades now that takes these beloved films into blandly superficial territory.
It saddens me to say that Bohemian Rhapsody falls into that category, but I can also tell you that it’s not all bad news. Hear me out.
Bohemian Rhapsody is, of course, the story of Freddie Mercury of Queen a.k.a. The Greatest Frontman in the History of Rock (no one argues this statement). Beginning with his humble roots as a baggage handler at Heathrow to his final show at Live Aid in 1985, his story (and that of Queen themselves) is detailed.
Except detailed is too sharp a word for it. This is a very surface-level film that plays fast and loose with the facts of some very major parts of the story of one of rock’s most unique and dynamic bands. Everyone understands that a biopic will not be 100% factually accurate, but when you present the breakup of a band that never actually broke up then you are taking some dramatic liberties! I won’t break down all the inaccuracies; there is an excellent article by Rolling Stone Magazine out there on the interwebs if you need the full breakdown. It’s fairly egregious.
Formulaic is a perfect word for Bohemian Rhapsody. It paints by numbers the same basic shit that you’ll see in every other rockstar biopic- the rise, the debauchery, the fall. You’ve seen it all before, and that’s not a crime in and of itself. However, the pacing is so rushed that you don’t get to settle into the emotion of the situations. You go from the story of the band’s formation and Freddie’s home life straight to a series of near-vignettes on how the major songs came to be. It’s fun and the music is killer (obviously), but it simply could have been so much more. It’s a blast musically, though, smart enough to keep the Queen tunes front and center throughout.
There is a killer turn by Mike Myers (Austin Powers series, Shrek series, etc.) as a sleazy and dunderheaded record executive that’s good enough to steal scenes away from Freddie. It’s a bold statement, but see for yourself. Myers hasn’t lost a step in bringing the comedy game up from all involved.
Remember how I said it’s not all bad news, though? Bohemian Rhapsody is still worth taking the time to watch on the strength of the performances and (again….obviously) the music. The physical casting alone is worth the price of admission, particularly with the other band members. Gwilym Lee (BBC series Jamestown) has guitarist Brian May down to a science, right down to the signature myopic dryness he played with. Ben Hardy (X-Men: Apocalypse) as drummer Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello (young Tim from Jurassic Park!!) are both spot-on as well. Their mutual chemistry saves what could have been a disaster and shines it up properly, infusing what emotion you do get from the formula. Then, there’s Freddie Mercury….
Rami Malek (acclaimed USA Network series Mr. Robot) is a damn revelation. He’s so good, so glam, so flamboyant, so FREDDIE FUCKING MERCURY that you really won’t give a shit that the movie itself is like every other biopic. He’s been interviewed many times recently, and he keeps saying that he didn’t want to stop being Freddie, that it was intoxicating. Who can blame him? He so thoroughly owns the role of the greatest to ever pick up a microphone that it borders on the hypnotic. Freddie Mercury (the real man) was not a traditionally attractive human being; the teeth alone were insane. Malek channels that beautifully and (just like the real Freddie) becomes a devastatingly sexy creature. It’s easily one of the ten best performances of a real-life figure that’s ever been done.
The other place Bohemian Rhapsody earns it stripes is the closing act. The movie starts (briefly) and finishes with the 1985 Live Aid performance of Queen. It’s one of the most amazing sets ever performed, and the cinematic recreation is wonderfully shot in scope and presentation. It’s a real sight to behold where the emotion you’ve been waiting for finally shines through.
In short, if you can look past the extremely formulaic and superficial nature of the film itself and the glaring historical inaccuracies you’ll be treated to one of the best performances you’ll ever see from Rami Malek.
My advice? To paraphrase Freddie Mercury: Go ahead. Be a musical prostitute.