The Queen musical has been a sizable topic of film discussions for years. We knew this was coming, it was hyped back when Sacha Baron Cohen was initially signed to play frontman Freddie Mercury. Well, it’s finally here. There’s some minor changes in personnel, but what more do you need besides Queen’s iconic rock anthems? Well, based on Bohemian Rhapsody, it seems at least a little more is required.
Bohemian Rhapsody follows the iconic rock band Queen from their formation through their legendary appearance in the 1985 Live Aid charity concert. The film stars Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joe Mazzello. Bryan Singer directs the film from a script by Anthony McCarten.
Much has been written about Bohemian Rhapsody and its turbulent production. The feature shut down after the notoriously difficult (and problematic) Singer refused to return to set at the conclusion of Thanksgiving 2017. The studio eventually fired the director and finished the film under numerous guiding hands, including Dexter Fletcher. However, due to DGA rules, it is Singer’s name which remains on the picture.
Much of the hype surrounding this feature involves Rami Malek’s portrayal of legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. The task of tackling such a vibrant, iconic and unabashedly talented personality must be terrifying for an actor. Malek does lip-synch; however, baring fluky casting of John Lloyd Young levels of awesomeness (yes! Jersey Boys reference right there), the creative team likely won’t find anyone with the vocal dynamism of Freddie Mercury. Malek does everything he can to nail the performance, and all signs point to him being a contender with awards season beating down on us.
Unfortunately, the film’s script stands in the way of this being a truly great film. Perhaps the story struggles from having to pass so much time, maybe it is outside involvement (Brian May and Roger Taylor are both credited as producers), or could it be pressure to bring home a PG-13 rating in the face of the very adult environment of the 1970s and 1980s rock and roll scene. Bohemian Rhapsody functions as little more than a concert video for a lip-synching Queen cover band.
None of the actors are given much of anything to do and this is particularly noticeable in Malek’s role. The script stands in the way of Malek being able to take a Freddie Mercury impression and turn it into a performance. There is so much potential for character introspection in the story of a man which truly needs to be told. However, the film seems afraid to touch any of this. We don’t learn much about the man behind the Freddie Mercury persona. Ultimately, this is disrespectful to Mercury, who deserves to have an emotional and well-crafted story told about him. His legacy is more than simply a rock and roll lead singer… however mighty he might be.
In the desire to craft what ends up being a shallow take on Mercury’s story, the movie largely forgets about the band’s other members. While there are plenty of interesting storylines to explore, and the film crafts a fascinating metaphor about family, the narrative never brings any of it to fruition. Joe Mazzello does a heck of a lot with almost nothing. He’s a pro at drawing the eye whenever he’s on-screen, and absolutely shines as the oft-overlooked bassist John Deacon. Lee and Hardy give solid performances, making it really regretful they don’t have more material. This movie could have been solid with a concrete story behind it.
The emotional crux of this story builds up to Queen’s Live Aid performance. By this point, Mercury has been diagnosed with the AIDS which would eventually end his life (history, not a spoiler) and this is treated as an almost last hurrah for the band. However, the sequence loses any of the emotional power it could hold in shoddy stylistic construction.
The visual effects used to craft the massive concert scenes are atrocious and the lack of polish shows on screen. As such, this comes across noticeably in the performances. The band feel isolated in what should be a packed Wembley Stadium (72,000 people were reportedly in attendance). In this moment where they should be at their peak, (the 20 minute set is held as one of history’s greatest all-time rock and roll performances) they’re flat. The attention is rightly directed at Mercury, who has just informed the band of his diagnosis and there is plenty of material there for a truly powerful ending. However, instead of building a sense of community within the band (and the millions of people watching) everyone feels isolated in the scene, largely shutting down any emotion the story seems to want you to feel.
Ultimately, with the performances as is, Bohemian Rhapsody could have been a sizable player come award season had it shown up in the story department. With such a shallow and poorly developed take on this story, this film ends up feeling like a vanilla flavored, candy-coated take on what must have been a far more interesting story. Just watch Queen on YouTube. You’ll get a better take on these men there than you will in this film. Too many cooks do spoil the pot, it seems.
Bohemian Rhapsody opens in theaters Friday.