Not Without Its Moments, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is Ultimately Too Basic and Safe

Bohemian_Rhapsody_posterThe behind-the-scenes drama of what it took to get this movie made is more interesting than the actual film itself…

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the biopic of the band Queen, following frontman Freddie Mercury (played by Rami Malek). Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech and Mike Myers also star as Bryan Singer (“and Dexter Fletcher”) direct.

Originally in 2010 Sacha Baron Cohen was attached to this film to play Mercury, aiming to make an honest, R-rated telling of the singer’s life with David Fincher or Tom Hooper in the director’s chair. Eventually, due in large part of the involvement of Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor and their desire to make a more family-friendly and band-centered film, Cohen left. Singer and Malek then joined on, only to have their relationship come to a boiling point during production after Singer (allegedly) had emotional breakdowns on set and would show up late to shoots (not completely unlike the real Mercury). Singer was fired and Fletcher, who was at one point slated to direct the film anyways, took over. There are more interesting nuggets but I’ll let you find them for yourself. Needless to say, this film had a lot going against it before it ever even hit theaters, but if it was great and the blood, sweat and tears put into it resulted in a musical masterpiece then no one would bat an eye. So how is the final product? Ehhh, I mean, it’s fine.

Long before the first trailer even dropped, Rami Malek was getting Oscar talk simply for his appearance as Mercury. Sporting the porno mustache and (at times comical) overbite, Malek certainly embodies Mercury, or at least a caricature of him. I wasn’t alive during Freddie Mercury’s time but I’ve seen interviews with him and while he certainly has an oozing of charisma and cattiness about him, he never came off as the overly-flamboyant queen that the film portrays him as. Adding “darling” to the end of every sentence, Malek’s performance is certainly not bad but it is almost like what an SNL skit about Mercury would be. He feels like a character, not *the* character.

The rest of the cast is solid, including an eerily similar doppelganger Gwilym Lee as Brian May, and Mike Myers (yep, that one, not the one chasing Jamie Lee Curtis around cinemas at the moment) makes a meta and almost unrecognizable appearance as a record executive.

The high points of the film are entertaining, like when the band is performing (using Mercury’s real voice, not Malek’s) and when they are recording the songs that would eventually go down in history. Every time they begin to get at each other’s throats and it seems like the end of the group is near, one of them will start humming a beat or riffing on a guitar and suddenly another hit is born. Much like with “Jersey Boys” and “Straight Outta Compton” you forget just how rooted Queen’s songs are into pop culture until you hear them back-to-back.

The problem is that we have seen everything, and I mean everything, that is done here done before and done better. Comparing this to “Straight Outta Compton” is a bit unfair since that film is great, but it also features a group of outsiders (or “misfits” as Mercury calls the band) just hanging out and creating songs that went against the normal rules, only to have the main face fall victim to AIDS. But not even bringing “Compton” into the picture, if you have seen a musician’s (or any) biopic then you know exactly what scene will follow the one you are watching. Anthony McCarten has written some pretty bland films (like “Theory of Everything” and “Darkest Hour”) and this really feels like a made-for-TV effort sometimes, it’s that by-the-numbers and safe.

Now I don’t expect every film to be completely historically accurate, Hollywood has every right to twist and omit if it means condensing a story or adding a little tension, but the entire time you’re watching this movie something just feels off and inauthentic about it. And a quick Wikipedia search would show the filmmakers straight-up rewrote history in the third act, for reasons I won’t say here (ya know, in case 25-year-old history can be deemed a spoiler).

And you may not care but I’m a fan of things like this so I’ll touch on the cinematography real quick. Shot by Newton Thomas Sigel, who (allegedly) needed to act as director on set when Singer wouldn’t show up, the film looks crisp and clear (I assume it was shot on digital) so nothing about it feels like the 1970s and 80s. Other films, like “Compton,” “Walk the Line” or last month’s “First Man,” try and add a color tint or graininess to the shot to immerse you but just like the script and direction, skating by is good enough here.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t necessarily a bad film; it is just a disappointingly safe one. Watching any three minute interview with Freddie Mercury, a musical genius struck down in his prime, will show you that there is so much this film chose to omit about him and Queen’s legacy (again, due in large part to May and Taylor not wanting to risk hurting his or their image and place in history) and this feels like it just left so much on the table. That being said, the normies will eat it up and if you’re wondering if you’ll be able to forgive the film’s flaws enough to enjoy it, I have a test for you: did you enjoy “The Greatest Showman”? You’re answer there likely will apply to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Critic’s Grade: C

20th Century Fox

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