By Jack Dignan
Freddy Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, defied expectations and stereotypes during his decades long career as a musician. He was never bogged down the conventional or burdened by what’s considered universal. Cliché wasn’t an option for Freddy. And the world loved him for it. Yet, his long awaited and much anticipated biopic doesn’t manage to capture that in any way, shape of form. It’s the most stereotypical, conventional and cliché musical biopic you could possibly make about a man who was anything but. Oh, the irony.
“The only thing greater than their music is his story,” reads the poster’s tagline for Bohemian Rhapsody, and while that may be true to life, it’s not so much for the big screen adaptation. As a young man, Freddy shied away from his heritage, adopting a stage name and teaming up with fellow aspiring musicians Brian May (Gwilym Lee), John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). Together, they’re Queen. But as their band begins to rise in fame and power, the public grows suspicious of Freddy’s personal life, which slowly begins to drive a wedge between the band members.
After a troubled and controversial production, in which director and accused sexual predator Bryan Singer was fired with a few weeks left of production and subsequently replaced with Eddie the Eagle director Dexter Fletcher, the film, miraculously, found its way to the big screen. While films like Justice League have made this shift in directors to very obvious and degrading degrees, Bohemian Rhapsody maintains a singular vision. Whose vision this is remains to be seen, but the final product struggles to save itself from its own mediocrity, and that feels unavoidable, no matter who’s credited as director.
There are brief flutters of high-octane energy throughout the musical fiasco, mostly thanks to Newton Thomas Sigel’s evocative camera work, but lackluster editing struggles to leave any lasting impact. Scenes are choppy and emotionless. Most of the cuts, even during moments of shot reverse shot, feel jarring and out of place, which only further burdens the project as a whole. There’s no flow to anything. The pacing is completely off. You don’t care about any of the subplots because they don’t follow any arc. A lot of this is the result of an uninteresting and generic screenplay by Anthony McCarten, but it doesn’t help when it feels artificially compiled together either.
One moment that’s edited to trick us into thinking a chicken is singing the titular Bohemian Rhapsody is puzzling, while the flashy neon title cards that fly out of the screen feel very much of the time, but very out of place in a film like this one. Several of the concert sequences are crafted in such a way that they feel more like a timely music video than a cinematic biopic. The musical sequences are a lot of fun, especially when Malek dives deep into the role and fully embodies what made Freddy Freddy, but they come at the price of losing literally everything else that’s interesting in his life.
A showstopper of a finale does its best to make you forget how little you cared about everything before it, and honestly it’s pretty fantastic, but it takes two hours to get there and it’s not worth the wait. Jarring time jumps make this feel like an extended montage of key moments in Freddy’s life, but nothing has any semblance of coherence. We skim through important events without any depth or care. Queen go from nobodies to celebrities within the span of a one minute CGI-laced tracking shot, which I would be fine with if they’d done anything interesting with the material that follows, but the problem is that they don’t.
Malek steals every scene he’s in, and his relationship with Lucy Boynton’s Mary Austin shows glimmers of a fully realised idea, but nothing lasts long enough for us to care. So much of Freddy’s life is genuinely interesting, but the film left me with more questions than it did answers. I wanted to know more about so many decisions these characters make, but before we know it it’s already cut forward several years and we’re dealing with a topic completely unrelated to the one before it. Freddy’s relationship with his parents is introduced early then dropped, forced back into the film during the closing minutes.
You don’t see Rami Malek on screen; you see Freddy. He’s that good. Sadly, the film around him isn’t. It’s hard not to tap your feet along to the spellbinding concert sequences and joyous moments of these characters coming up with songs in the recording studio, but they’re few and far between. Queen fans may get a kick out of seeing their favourite artists back up on the big screen, possibly even shedding a tear during the more interesting somber moments in the third act, and Wayne’s World fans may laugh at a subtle reference Mike Myers makes in passing, but so much of this is a sludge to sit through. Rami Malek deserves a better movie. In fact, we all do.
2 1/2 Stars
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