The Freddie Mercury biopic has finally escaped production hell, but after rewrites, cast changes and director dramas, how has the finished product come out?
It’s probably fair to say that anybody interested in pop or rock music has heard at least one Queen song. Their mark on pop culture is without doubt an indelible one and people will be discovering their music for decades.
As anyone will tell you, there’s simply no Queen without Freddie Mercury. Everyone’s favourite frontman, he’s probably closer to legend or even a deity to some people than a human being, so naturally a movie about one of music’s most charismatic figures would make easy material for a full-length biopic, right?
Well, somebody thought so. And sure enough we now have Bohemian Rhapsody to chronicle the rise and rise of Mr Mercury and the gang.
As a musical biopic, the usual elements are all there: Freddie meeting the rest of the band, the first gig, the first hit, the album success, the excess, the break-up and the reunion. All ticked off the list, with no surprises in tow. In fact, there’s a surprisingly perfunctory feel to it all, and for a band that was so hard to pin down to any one identity this film feels awfully generic.
It’s especially odd because at times the film gets it so right, and seems at times to look like Bohemian Rhapsody is about to follow an interesting storyline – and then it’s right back to the usual biopic fare. Visually speaking there are moments of brilliance scattered throughout – the sequence where “Bohemian Rhapsody” is unveiled on Kenny Everett’s radio show is one of the most wonderfully cinematic moments in the film.
For every one of those moments though, there are about ten scenes that simply don’t work. The number one rule of filmmaking is show, don’t tell. Here though we have everything explained to us most of the time, then when the director – whoever it may be – goes for a bit of visual storytelling, it’s so painful that they might as well not have bothered. The absolute worst example of this – and there are a few – is the moment where Freddie starts to explore his sexuality by literally being presented with a door with “MEN” painted in huge letters on the front. It’s a cringeworthy and completely unnecessary way to introduce that aspect of Freddie Mercury’s private life.
There are plenty of reports that suggest the film was written so as to preserve Freddie’s legacy, and that definitely rings true when watching Bo Rap. It feels like there’s a really interesting film desperate to come to the surface – and from interviews with Rami Malek who plays Mercury this appears the case – that would potentially threaten to reveal Freddie Mercury as a vulnerable human being.
This is not to take anything away from Rami Malek’s performance. He’s by far and away the shining light of this film and gets Mercury so, so right that he’s a joy to behold. Having the opportunity to play someone as iconic and charismatic as Freddie Mercury must be like gold dust to actors, and Malek takes the opportunity with both hands.
Here, the filmmakers decided to use Freddie’s voice for the songs and have Malek essentially lip-sync, but thanks to the calibre of the acting here it doesn’t require much adjustment time to get used to the voice of Freddie Mercury coming out of the mouth of Rami Malek.
Unfortunately the remainder of the performances are lacking by comparison. The rest of the band – except John Deacon who may have some things to say – come out of it fairly unscathed, and the camaraderie of bandmates shines through in the scenes involving Queen being Queen. There’s a little running joke about “I’m In Love With My Car” which gets a few good laughs. Behind the scenes of the quartet though, there’s not a whole lot to smile about.
The usual character actor types found in these kinds of film do their bit completely adequately, but the biggest issue here is Mike Myers. There’s no doubting that he is a funny guy, and I’ve enjoyed plenty that he’s done in the past, but here he’s so distracting in every scene he’s in that it completely overpowers moments that should be about the band. Woefully miscast doesn’t cover it.
And yet, despite the myriad problems and frustrations I have with Bohemian Rhapsody, I left the screening with a big smile on my face. It’s the Mamma Mia! effect: no matter how lazy and unfocused the film gets, Queen’s hits are so perfectly suited to cinema that it’s hard not to stomp your feet and clap along. The climax of their Live Aid set is reenacted almost minute for minute and it almost makes the 2 hours prior worth the slog for how joyful and triumphant that entire sequence is. It’s an entirely undeserved victory lap for the film but it’s no less entertaining when it happens.
Ultimately, Bohemian Rhapsody is a near miss of a film. For a man as flamboyant and vibrant as Freddie Mercury was on stage, the movie is played surprisingly straight. There’s enough there for audiences to enjoy and people will no doubt flock to this film, and I hope that they end up having such a good time that the flaws throughout don’t stop them now.