I adore Queen. I’ve loved them since I first discovered them in middle school and I adore them to this day. They were a band that, in many ways, was ahead of its time. While all of them brought different strengths to the table, I think it’s fair to say that the band is most remembered for the vocal talents of its late lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Freddie had a voice that has yet to be topped and had a personality that was as large as his vocal range. But he was also a very private man and kept much from the limelight. It was only a matter of time before someone made a movie about him and about his time in Queen and that’s exactly what Bohemian Rhapsody is. While it’s more about Queen than about Freddie, Bohemian Rhapsody, written by Anthony McCarten and directed by Bryan Singer (with Dexter Fletcher completing the film after the firing of Singer), tells the story of Freddie and Queen, from their beginnings in the early 1970s through their monumental performance at Live Aid in 1985. It’s an enjoyable film, though one that never really explores its subject as deeply as you’d like it to.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.
There’s a lot to like about Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s a film that celebrates the music of a truly amazing band. It features a breathtaking performance from Rami Malek. And it’s chock full of songs we all know and love. I wanna make it clear that I did enjoy this movie, but I enjoyed it mostly on a surface level. The movie didn’t seem all that interested in really exploring Freddie Mercury, or Queen, in any depth. It’s a pretty paint-by-the-numbers story about the band and one that fudges history a bit. In particular, it seems to rearrange the timing of certain songs and events. Two examples, in particular, are when the film features Queen singing Fat Bottomed Girls before Bohemian Rhapsody was written and it also features Freddie telling the band he’s been diagnosed with AIDS prior to the Live Aid performance when, in reality, he wasn’t diagnosed with AIDS until 1987. Most biopics smudge the real history of the subjects they cover, and Bohemian Rhapsody is no exception. In that regard, it’s not any worse than any other biopic. But it still feels a bit weird. For a lot of the changes, there’s no real reason for them to have changes the sequence of events. I understand that dramatic license is needed when telling biopics, but that Live Aid change really rubs me the wrong way. Yes, it makes for a poignant finale, but at the same time, the real events were poignant too. We didn’t need them to alter history and have Freddie’s diagnosis happen before Live Aid. To be honest, the film didn’t really need to end with Live Aid at all. Yes, it makes for a more uplifting end than one that ends with Freddie’s death, but it’s not particularly realistic or true to history. The filmmakers still could have had that uplifting ending by spending a bit of time focusing on how Freddie’s legacy still lives on. The filmmakers could have had the best of both worlds instead of tweaking a pretty major fact about Freddie’s life in order to make the ending work. It feels disrespectful.
Rami Malek was a great choice to play Freddie, but he’s not really given much to work with. Freddie, in this film, feels more like a caricature of the real man than an actual representation of him. The film isn’t particularly interested in actually exploring what made Freddie who he was. It makes some half-hearted attempts at exploring his sexuality and his relationships with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), Paul Prenter (Allan Leech), and Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), but it doesn’t really seem to have much to say about it. There’s a nice scene between Freddie and Mary where Freddie tells Mary he thinks he’s bisexual and she tells him that she’s known he was gay for a little while and Boynton and Malek’s acting is what really sells it. There’s another moment between Freddie and Jim where the two of them talk about how they fill up the moments in between when they feel alone and it’s a really touching moment. Rami Malek really shines in those quiet moments where the script gives Freddie a moment to be introspective, but unfortunately, there’s far too little of that in the movie. Instead, the film is more concerned with being a mix of your standard film about drama in a rock band and showing how Queen created a few of their greatest hits and then played them in concerts. It’s not inherently bad that the movie does this; it’s gonna play well to a general audience, I think, but it does do Freddie a bit of a disservice by not really spending much time actually examining him with any depth or nuance.
Perhaps the best part of the film is the extended sequence at the end that recreates Queen’s famous Live Aid performance. It’s pretty astonishing from a technical standpoint as it really does look like a recreation of that concert. It’s a very moving part of the film and it’s a great one to end the film on. Watching it honestly gave me goosebumps. It’s amazing just how well Rami and the rest of the actors playing Queen are able to sink into this performance. While it’s still clearly just the audio from the real Live Aid concert, it does actually feel like we’re watching these guys really perform. And I’ve seen the video of the real Live Aid concert, so it’s an even more impressive how well this sequence works. While I don’t like the change of making the performance sort of a response to Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis (since he wasn’t diagnosed until two years after this performance), it’s still a good way to end the film as it does a very good job at ending the film on a high note. It’s just such a marvelous sequence that it’s almost worth seeing the entire film just for this sequence. It’s a definite highlight, especially since the rest of the film doesn’t quite seem to have the same passion that clearly went into the making of this scene.
All in all, it’s not that Bohemian Rhapsody is a bad film, it’s that it’s decidedly average, which feels weird considering Queen was anything but an average band. There are moments of brilliance in the directing and in pretty much all of Remi Malek’s performance, but the script does nothing with Freddie’s story and spends very little time exploring who he was as a person or what made him tick. At the end of the day, it’s a very cookie-cutter movie about a band that broke all kinds of molds. It’s a fun popcorn flick, but it’s just not as deep or nuanced as I’d have liked. It’s not as accurate as many documentaries are, but the performances and the Live Aid sequence at the end of the film make it a film worth seeing. You won’t be upset you saw this movie, but you might find yourself wishing it had gone a bit more in-depth into certain things. I think this is a film that many will, rightfully, like, but I just can’t help feeling that it could’ve been so much more had it been willing to take some risks and really explore the life of Freddie Mercury. Instead, we have what’s essentially a glorified commercial for Queen’s back catalog. Which is fine; it wouldn’t be the first time a biopic acted as a commercial. But I wanted more.
3.5 out of 5 wands (without the Live Aid sequence at the end of the film, it would be a 3 out of 5, but it’s hard to leave the film without a smile on your face because of how great that sequence is, so I have to give points where points are due).
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