Synopsis: A chronicle of the years leading up to Queen’s legendary appearance at the Live Aid concert.
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aiden Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers
Director: Bryan Singer
Running Length: 134 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: It’s only fair to say first off that the best part of Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic that’s not totally about Freddie Mercury but not really about Queen, is the final fifteen minutes. That’s where the film finally draws some electricity and commands some attention from the audience. As Mercury, star Rami Malek struts and poses with flair and gives off the kind of energy that’s been sorely missing for the previous two hours. At my screening, you could almost feel the crowd waking up and making a connection with what was happening on screen. The problem with all this is that it’s nearly a shot for shot recreation of Queen’s Live Aid performance that you could easily watch for free on YouTube. Why go to the movies to see something easily available at your personal fingertips?
The answer is Malek.
Let’s back up a bit, shall we?
Bohemian Rhapsody has finally arrived in theaters after a development process that could most kindly be called tortuous. Over the years many directors have come and gone along with potential stars. Once set to feature Sacha Baron Cohen as the late lead singer of Queen, he departed due to ‘creative differences’ and the film was eventually made with rising star Malek (Papillion) and director Bryan Singer (X-Men: Apocalypse). When filming was nearly finished, Singer was fired from the picture after not showing up for work and whatever was left to shoot was taken up by producer Dexter Fletcher. Though Singer’s name remains on the final product, the director is not doing press for the film and Malek’s own press junket has had some rocky moments.
If the film were anything memorable, this may all be a tragic series of unfortunate events but it’s so ho-hum and lazily assembled that you wonder why anyone put the effort in at all. The film was produced by two surviving members of Queen and if you believe what is in the news they had a strong hand in guiding the movie to not make anyone look that bad, except for Freddie Mercury who isn’t alive to defend himself. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour) and Peter Morgan (Rush) takes great lengths to show how Mercury caused the band to implode (though they never broke up as the film seems to suggest) and how the other members were model family men who contributed to the band’s success.
Playing like an abridged version of an already sanitized biography, the movie is never fully about the rise of Freddie who came from a traditional Pakistani family to become one of the most enigmatic but frustrating rock stars of his generation. It also isn’t really about Queen whose virtuosic talents are heard courtesy of the greatest hits soundtrack but never felt as performed by the actors taking on the other members of the band. Instead, it awkwardly hops along a middle line that fails to deliver anything we couldn’t have learned from reading the Queen Wikipedia page. There’s head-scratching leaps in time and curious historical omissions, then there are the downright oddball choices like having Mike Myers play a music industry exec who rejects Queen’s epic anthem Bohemian Rhapsody outright saying no one will be rocking out to this in their car. This from the actor that starred in Wayne’s World which featured a carful of metalheads rocking out to…guess what? It’s an unnecessary bit of goopy meta humor, one of many kooky moments that happen in the movie.
While the men playing Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy, Only the Brave), and John Deacon (Joe Mazzello, Jurassic Park) acquit themselves in shallow roles, two performances keep the movie afloat and both actors are working their butts off to do so. The first is Lucy Boynton (Murder on the Orient Express) as Freddie’s first love and fiancée before he comes out as gay. Though he cheats on her she remains loyal to him first as a lover and then as a confidant. When Freddie gets tangled up with a shady manager (Allen Leech, The Imitation Game) with personal and professional interests of his own, she’s the only one that calls Freddie out on his blindness and reminds him of who has always stuck by him. Boynton turns up regularly in these types of roles but she aces them all.
Then there’s Malek who is the real reason you should consider seeing the movie at all. Though saddled with a pair of false teeth to create Freddie’s pronounced overbite that feel two sizes to big, he brings out the loneliness felt by this star and that’s where some true emotion finally is felt. Though it tends toward “poor Freddie with no friends and no companion” at times (again, what does this script have against him??) Malek manages to rise above all of that and find the heart if not totally the soul of the man. If only Malek was paired with a screenplay that was willing to be a warts and all tour of Queen’s journey to fame.
It all comes into focus, though, in those final fifteen minutes which are enough to send you out of the theater on a rock and roll high. I felt it for a good day or so after I saw the film but the more I thought about the rest of the movie and it’s tuneless trappings the more I started to come back to earth. Fans of Mercury and the band have likely been waiting a long time for this biopic and maybe they’ll get what they need out of this surface skimming endeavor – but I think it will take another set of filmmakers more removed from their subject to give us the real story.