In a post-modern creative culture, all formulas become broken down to their most basic components and their ingredients exposed. Most probably have enjoyed chicken McNuggets until seeing the “pink slime” video on YouTube exposing what the tasty, deep-fried monstrosities were made of. The musical biopic might be the most formulaic of films. First, get the life rights to a famous band or musical artist. In Act 1, show them in their early scrappy years before success. In Act 2, watch them attain celebrity and respect, as they dive head first into vices and fame tears them apart. Finally, in Act 3, everything spirals out of control as they search for redemption.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” might be the most formulaic musical biopic ever made—like someone tried to make “Walk Hard” without any sense of irony or satire. Let me get this right out of the way: Rami Malek does an amazing job portraying Freddie Mercury. It’s just a damn shame it’s in a movie this bland and unforgivably glib. I almost could recommend it based on his marvelous attempt at inhabiting rock ‘n’ roll’s most interesting frontman. But when the depths of what is explored here is as shallow as a puddle of piss, it feels completely wasted.
We meet Mercury, the son of immigrants, laboring away in mediocrity before he meets a band in need of a lead singer. Things don’t start out smoothly. In fact, it takes Mercury and the other members of Queen all of 12 seconds to go from awkwardly stumbling on stage to becoming beloved rockers. Literally, director Bryan Singer (“Unreported Sex Crimes”) and screenplay writer Anthony McCarten try to prove that with the performance of a single song the band goes from rough to rock gods. And there are so many laughable moments like this. Mercury proposes to his girlfriend; 20 seconds later the other members of the band barge in to let them know they’re going to tour America. The band is on the verge of breaking up and in the middle of the dispute; the bass player starts thumping out the now-famous notes for “Another One Bites the Dust,” quelling the anger and getting the band to record another hit. Singer tries to create pivotal moments within multiple instances of significance.
And then there are many laughably staged moments. One scene in particular sees Mercury pitching the operatic concept of their next album to a crusty record executive (Mike Myers), and basically tells him he wants to completely reinvent the concept of rock while his bandmates nod in agreement. It would, of course, lay the groundwork for creating one of the greatest songs ever recorded, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Once they deliver the masterpiece, the record exec loudly declares the song will never be a hit.
It’s weird how easy everything seems for Queen. I can’t dispute their talent, but watching the band churn out great music with such ease feels dramatically inert.
There is some drama—mostly due to Freddie’s hard-partying days and faltering sense of self. It could have been the movie’s most interesting exploration; instead, it’s tepid. (Seemingly, it’s the reason Sacha Baron Cohen originally quit the movie because surviving band members didn’t want their frontman’s vices to paint a poor picture of the band.) Mercury’s marriage becomes entangled in his sexual explorations and brings to light questions about his sexuality. Instead of diving deeper into the complexity of Mercury’s struggle of self, the film decides to craft his relationships with the complexity of a shitty soap opera.
I can’t speak to the historical authenticity of what happened in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but I have to imagine there was a lot of solid drama left unearthed. There were times I felt like I was watching “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story on Lifetime” or VH1’s epic “Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story,” but with better production values.
It’s a damn shame because Queen deserved a better movie.
It’s still great to hear their amazing music, and there are moments viewers very well marvel at Malek’s interpretation of Mercury. In the end, the movie is an absolute mess at a molecular level. The other members of Queen are barely worth mentioning because we never really learn anything about them, other than the fact they made great songs with relative ease.
Mercury’s suffering is unexplored in any interesting or dramatic fashion. The idea someone could make such a bland movie about someone as interesting as Freddie Mercury is mind-blowing. Unlike the song of the same name, “Bohemian Rhapsody” ends up being far too predictable.