Bohemian Rhapsody is akin to a greatest hits compilation CD that one finds in the checkout isle of a department store. It is full of crowd-pleasing moments that will have you harmonizing with tunes that you have not heard in a while. As enjoyable as the trip down memory lane is, the disc lacks the songs that, while not chart toppers, give a deeper understanding of the individuals behind the music.
Strictly adhering the standard formula of musical biopics, the film seems more interested in selling Queen albums to a new generation than it is depicting the complexities of the men who helped to change the face of rock music. While the songs are undeniably catchy, it is Queen after all, I walked away learning very little about the group that a quick glance at Wikipedia could not have told me.
I get that it is tough to cram fifteen years of history into two hours, but the film is so concerned with presenting the living members of the band, Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), in the best light that it unintentionally strips the men of any depth. We hear talk of wife and kids, but rarely see them. There biggest issues, aside from the conniving Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), who attempts to keep Freddie Mercury and his band mates apart, is bickering over whose songs get on the album.
This leaves the bulk of the heavy lifting, from a story perspective, on the shoulders of Mercury (Rami Malek in a sensational turn). Unfortunately, the film never quite figures out what aspects of Mercury’s life are the most compelling. His conflict with his father over his reluctance to accept his Parsi heritage is raised at the beginning then dropped for the majority of the film. Although the film frequently flirts with the fluidness of Mercury’s sexuality, it is too timid to delve into the subject in any meaningful way.
Instead it spends most of the time showing the tenderness of his relationship with long time girlfriend Mary (Lucy Boyton). In fact, the film inadvertently reinforces many unhealthy stereotypes about homosexuality as Mercury’s life, in the film’s timelines, goes on a downward spiral right after he openly admits his bi-sexuality.
For an individual whose professional and personal life was anything but conventional, the film’s approach to Mercury’s life surprisingly is.
However, there are still several great moments scattered throughout Bryan Singer’s film. Bohemian Rhapsody is the most alive when it playfully shows how visionary they were when crafting their iconic songs. The concert re-enactment, specifically the centrepiece Live Aid concert performance, effectively captures the magnetic bond the band had with their fans.
Ultimately though It is Rami Malek’s performance that is the main reason to see the film. He is transcendent as Mercury, completely losing himself in the role. Through his physical mannerisms he brings a level of depth to the character that the script fails to match.
While those who simply want to revel in Queen’s music, and Malek’s performance, will no doubt find much to enjoy in the film, the lack of depth and surprisingly conventional storytelling makes Bohemian Rhapsody a film that is not quite worth singing about.