“Bohemian Rhapsody” Movie Review

It was a bold choice for them to name this film after one of the most original and innovative rock songs ever recorded and still present the story as exactly you would expect it to. This biographical music drama was released worldwide on November 2nd, 2018, pushed up from its original date on Christmas Day. Made on a budget of about $50 million or so, it went on to gross over $551 million at the global box office, effectively making it the highest grossing music biopic of all time. That’s more than twice the total intake of the previous record-holder, 2015’s Straight Outta Compton. This film, based on the true story of its iconic band, has struggled to get off the ground for many years, with the earliest iteration having Sacha Barn Cohen attached in the lead role in 2010. Things finally started moving forward with director Bryan Singer at the helm in late 2016, with assistance from two surviving band members. However, high contentions between Singer and the cast and crew, eventually led to the director being fired right before completion, and 20th Century Fox hired Dexter Fletcher (Who was previously attached to a version of the project) to finish filming. In the end, the Directors’ Guild of America gave Singer sole credit while Fletcher received executive producer title. Rami Malek stars as Farrokh Bulsara, a young Indian-British Parsi man with an incredible singing voice and talent for songwriting. Through a variety of circumstances, he meets drum player Roger Taylor, guitarist Brian May, and bassist John Deacon in London and they form a rock band called Queen. Renaming himself Freddie Mercury, he takes the band, and himself, on a truly wild and world-changing ride culminating in perhaps the greatest rock concert of all time. I have no shame in admitting that I have been a huge fan of Queen and their music for many, many years now. If there any one musical group that I could go back in time to watch live, it would most definitely be them. I’m listening to their music as I’m writing this review right now, if that tells you anything. Moreover, Freddie Mercury has been something of a personal inspiration for me, never afraid to flaunt his buoyant personality onstage but still keep to himself in private. And this is one of those movies that has been in and out of the works for many years now, with so many different names attached to it. Even after Bryan Singer’s sexual assault lawsuit, I still had hope for seeing my favorite band on the big screen for the first time. Unfortunately, Bohemian Rhapsody is completely unworthy of either the band’s legacy or Mercury’s because it’s about as formulaic and bland as any musical biopic that you’ve seen. Typically, I don’t care about a film’s fidelity to a true story being told as long as the end result is satisfying. But for Bohemian Rhapsody, it feels more like a piece of historical fiction with the name of a band that also happened to exist. Brian May and Roger Taylor were very much involved in the film’s production, and it really feels like they wanted to paint themselves (And Freddie) in the best light possible. That also manages to have an adverse affect in its depiction of Freddie’s homosexuality and eventual AIDS diagnosis, which borders on the offensive in its sanitized, somewhat negative depiction. It throws certain events out of real-life chronological order and makes his romantic relationships basic and hollow. For whatever angle he’s given to work from, Rami Malek is captivating and feral as Freddie Mercury. I’ve been a fan of him from the excellent T.V. show Mr. Robot, and I believe that this role could catapult him to stardom. In many a scene, he’s almost like the spitting image of the legendary front man, with flamboyant movement and a pair of convincing buck front teeth. Compared to him, though, most of the players are subpar or discouraged by his raw energy. His bandmates are all played by Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, and Joe Mazzello, none of whom are ever able to be fully developed as people. They act more as sketches of guys that love making and playing music, and their own personal lives are never really explored. Lucy Boynton, who gave a brilliant performance in 2016’s Sing Street, falls surprisingly flat as Mary Austin, Mercury’s one-time fiancĂ© and close friend. (Yes, he actually was in a heterosexual relationship early in life) They share no chemistry on-screen and she feels more like a foil than anything else. Other actors include Game of Thrones alum Aiden Gillen as the band’s pragmatic manager, Allen Leech as a closeted and toxic personal assistant, Tom Hollander as Queen’s lawyer, Mike Myers in a role that pokes fun at a scene in Wayne’s World, and Aaron McCusker as seemingly the only man Freddie gets in a healthy relationship with. Most of them felt confused on what exactly direction to take their characters. As far as technical aspects go, Bohemian Rhapsody is about as flashy and dramatic as a rock concert. Newton Thomas Sigel, who briefly stepped in to direct when Bryan Singer wasn’t around, serves as the cinematographer. He keeps the camera steady for most of the film, and it’s practically swooping around the stage as we follow the singer’s intensive movements. Much of the visuals who employs in dramatic moments are filled with sepia tone, giving a nostalgic feel for Queen and Mercury. The director’s frequent collaborator John Ottman, usually a composer, steps in for the editing job. He does as much as he can to keep things frenetic, using song cues and iconic imagery of the band to transition between scenes. These contributions come together to form some admittedly electrifying and entertaining concert set pieces. The whole film is framed by and soon culminates with Queen’s legendary Live Aid performance in 1985, widely considered to be the greatest rock concert of all time. A 20-minute set, the film version is remarkably captivating and accurate to the real deal; I can only imagine what it must have been like for anyone at Wimberley Stadium that day. Outside of those moments, however, we’re left with a standard, 2-hour and 14-minute bit of fare that’s been half-baked, half-written and heavily sanitized. Bohemian Rhapsody is a detrimentally safe and rote treatment of real musical legends. I can’t help but wonder what this may have looked like under a different director in one of the previous iterations. Rami Malek’s performance is absolutely astounding to watch and the Live Aid concert scene is arguably one of the most rousing moments in a film you’ll see this year. If only the filmmakers were as concerned about the reality of the story as they were with the authenticity with the music sequences.

1 thought on ““Bohemian Rhapsody” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: 2018 Superlatives | Geek's Landing

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