by Austin Cassey | Staff Writer
Queen may have ruled the stage decades ago and they may have been crowned champions of the box office last weekend, but their current movie is far from perfect. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” ironically unlike the song, seems to go through the motions in many respects and fails to tell its story in a way that is unique or satisfying to sit through.
Actor Rami Malek as frontman Freddie Mercury, however, is so much fun to watch. The casting is visually about as good as could be and while Malek doesn’t do most of the singing himself, he nails Mercury’s speaking voice and unique physical affectations perfectly. The character feels completely woven into him and Malek owns basically every scene through the whole movie as Mercury finds himself over a period of 20 years or so.
Less captivating are the characters around Mercury who suffer from a serious lack of development. Lucy Boynton’s character Mary Austin goes through her romantic change of heart early on and re-enters the movie every few scenes at random for the rest of the runtime seemingly just to remind Mercury of the good old days. The drummer is and stays confrontational, the bassist is and stays away from conflict, the eventual band manager is and stays untrustworthy. They just can’t find an interesting place to operate, so Malek almost seems to be playing off himself more than his other cast members at times.
The film’s structure is almost exactly what would be expected from this kind of movie: music group from humble beginnings becomes famous too quickly, hits a turning point where egoism, hedonism and distractions (often sex, drugs, or sleazy managers) lead to internal conflict and then the group messily shatters apart. It’s “The Doors,” it’s “Straight Outta Compton” and it’s even “This Is Spinal Tap.” Sure, Freddy Mercury and his life experiences were far from ordinary, but this movie hits all the usual beats from a rockstar biopic. Other common moves like starting the movie with shots from the climax at the end fail to add anything and instead feel like an editor desperately trying to spice things up.
Speaking of editing, something about the pace in “Bohemian Rhapsody” feels mishandled. Queen is all together and in a recording studio by around the 10 minute mark of the film. They already have charting songs on the radio and a record deal at 20 minutes. This rushed start leaves almost two hours remaining for the peak and decline of their story and it drags. Perhaps it is fun for some viewers to see the behind-the-scenes conversations that the band had behind closed doors about specific songs and various business decisions, but many of the scenes get bogged down in the trivial details of it all.
It goes without saying that the music itself still holds up quite nicely in 2018, but it’s not always used effectively. Some of the more famous songs are well-implemented into the story (like the titular track and “Keep Yourself Alive”), but some of them such as “Under Pressure” and “Another One Bites the Dust” seem to get thrown in at the end of scenes as if there was no other place to naturally put them. To be fair, with so many hits to Queen’s name, it could not have been an easy task to give equal emphasis to each track. Everyone who came to see this movie also gets the closest thing to experiencing a live concert from Queen in the form of a re-creation of famous megaconcert Live Aid at the end of the film, and it packs a real emotional punch.
Perhaps it has something to do with the troubled development this movie notably went through behind the camera, but this movie just didn’t turn out right. I was hoping for the colorful personality of Freddie Mercury to be reflected in the visual style of the movie, but almost every scene is filled with the same orange and teal that have pervaded the industry lately. While Malek may get some Oscar recognition for his performance and it potentially has added to the legacy of the band by appealing to a new generation of fans, “Bohemian Rhapsody” will probably not be an awards contender. Its bland storytelling won’t be remembered for long. I would recommend it for diehard fans of Queen’s music and perhaps it still deserves a (barely) passing grade solely for the lead performance’s power. 6/10