I’d like to begin by saying that I am by no means a film critic, at least not in the professional sense. I’m just a moviegoer, like most, who took an interest in a certain film’s story and decided to watch it.
The thing is, I get the overwhelming feeling that’s exactly the kind of audience Bryan Singer’s (and technically Dexter Fletcher’s as well) 2018 Queen biographical film Bohemian Rhapsody was made for. Not highbrow reviewers who, let’s face it, can sometimes be too preoccupied with the trappings of filmmaking artistry. Not bored people who bought tickets and sat in the theater just because they had nothing better to do and wanted to get out of the house. Rhapsody almost requires you to actually wonder about the history of Queen, to have questions whose answers you want shown instead of told. But requiring that curiosity from its audience is not necessarily a bad thing: if you’re not even curious about a story, why spend time and money to witness it?
I make no claims that Rhapsody has no flaws. On the contrary, I experienced discontent with some facets of the film, which I will discuss later on. But it also made me feel other emotions on a surprisingly varied range, and those emotions felt like they were in almost all the right places.
That was one of the film’s strengths. Each of the scenes played to a recognizable real-life theme. The spotlight shone in turn over the yearning for self-identification, the struggle for belonging, the fulfillment of out-of-the-box accomplishment, the nuanced reflection on sexuality, and the electricity of people uniting through music. The scenes played like something taken straight from the average person’s life, whether they also be a musician or not.
The storytelling doesn’t bother with being grand or spectacular, just trying to be as easy to follow as possible. It was told in a way that doesn’t alienate audiences who have no particular experience with the pleasures and rigors of being in the music industry.
Of special note is Rami Malek’s turn as iconic frontman Freddie Mercury. Aside from getting a lot of the look right, which the film also did so well for the rest of Queen, Malek’s Mercury played like an actor possessed by the legend. Malek brought a fluid energy to his wide-ranged portrayal: warm tenderness – later replaced with palpable uncertainty – in scenes with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), chilling confidence as he pushed for BoRhap to be released as the carrier single of A Night At The Opera, unbridled intensity as he performed on stage in front of thousands, tragic brokenness giving way to a glimmer of redemption as he decided to come home alone. Malek accomplished so much with what he was given, and directly contributed to making the film as visceral and moving as can be.
Where Bohemian Rhapsody excelled in telling a real story, it failed in telling a complete one. In the pursuit of making the film easy-to-follow, the showrunners had to cut out phases of the real-life story of the band that had little consequence on the overarching plotline. Among the most glaring is the noticeable exclusion of the early years of Queen before achieving widespread recognition, which were arguably their most formative years.
The screenplay is also quick to jump between the band’s milestones, firing off condensed reenactments of the creative processes behind their greatest hits. Even the sequences depicting pivotal events in Mercury’s life feel overly-simplified in both theme and overall execution, which is a testament to Malek’s stellar acting in that he avoided dooming such scenes to obscurity. But even he could only do so much to mask the obvious lack of focus and expansion into the lives of the band’s members, which is a crying shame since the cast was well-rounded and more than talented enough.
Because of this, it became rather easy to see the film for what it is. It’s not a story of the rise and glory years of Queen, nor is it an inspirational tale of striking out on a unique path and leaving an irreplaceable legacy. Bohemian Rhapsody, for all intents and purposes, unfolds as what may very well be a love letter to the late Freddie Mercury, interwoven with a watered-down telling of how the band became one of the most iconic musical acts in modern history.
Perhaps it deserves to be mostly forgiven for this, as it would be quite understandable for Sir Brian May and Roger Taylor to use their inputs as consultants for the film to shape it into a fitting big-screen tribute for their beloved frontman. But everyone involved in the making of the film, in turn, cannot blame audiences looking for a more detailed story of the band for feeling that the story is a bit hanging.
Not being a scholar of the in-depth history of Queen, I can make no comments about the accuracy of all the details in the film. I do believe that as with a lot of other films, creative liberties were taken here. However, I did not notice any contradictions within the story itself that would betray changes in specific elements of the source material.
I realize that this review is rather late to the party, but as far as I can tell Bohemian Rhapsody is still in quite a few theaters. It’s a definite recommend from me, so go watch it if you’d like and have a good time.