After I watched Bohemian Rhapsody, I followed a hunch and read through Freddie Mercury’s and Queen’s Wikipedia page. I sadly realized that my fears were justified. Watching Bohemian Rhapsody felt no different to me than reading a Wikipedia article that summed up their careers. For a biopic about Queen, this is far from acceptable. If you’re making a film about Queen, you need to do what Freddie did. Get outlandish and experimental, rock out with the passion and intensity of a thousand suns, and not regret a single moment. The film decides to play it safe by being a paint by numbers docudrama, which is a disservice to the band and what they stood for. Queen was unlike any band that ever existed, so it’s a shame that Bohemian Rhapsody is like every other biopic that’s ever existed.
The story of the film, directed by Brian Singer and written by Anthony McCarten, is about the life of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), the lead singer of Queen. The movie chronologically recounts his rock and roll career from joining up with Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) to create the band Queen, and ends with Queen’s performance at Live Aid. Other events that lead up to Live Aid include Freddie’s intimate relationships with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), and Personal Manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), and the dynamic between he and his bandmates. His homosexuality, sexual experimentation and escapades, and his unfortunate contraction of AIDS are also included in the story.
If you’re hoping that the film delves deeper into these events or people on a visual or emotional level, you’re going to be disappointed. The film goes through the biopic motions, presenting us with scene after scene of events that a Queen fan would know about, but gives us no unique aesthetic or emotional interpretation. Events happen one after the other, with nothing connecting them to one another, and things happen just as we expect them to. Freddie asks Mary to marry him. He’s happy. Then they break up. Then he’s sad. Then Freddie’s sexuality comes into question by the press. Then he’s angry. The film has no focus or message, and by the end, there’s no real meaning to anything that happened. The best statement I was able to interpret from this movie is that Freddie Mercury existed. I know that he did, as well as millions of other fans around the world, but what does his existence mean to the filmmakers outside of that? What makes this movie different from reading an article about him, or watching an interview? Short answer: Nothing.
With the exception of Mercury, every character feels like a prop. The film is so focused on what Freddie did and what kind of person he was, that it neglects to give any kind of characterization to the people around him. We’re given vague facts about Freddie’s family and bandmates and their relationship with each other, but it never feels genuine. In reality, Freddie’s relationship with each individual band and family member was distinct and complex, and the band had all kinds of projects and personal baggage that didn’t exclusively involve Freddie. In Bohemian Rhapsody, Brian May is band member A, Roger Taylor is band member B, and so on. They are simply cardboard images in Freddie Mercury’s world, and are relegated to that world only. They have no autonomy or life outside of the scenes they’re in. The film simply shrugs and says “Well, Freddie’s the main character. Why would we want to focus on anyone else’s life?” To which I respond, because his band and his family WERE his life. He loved them, and they loved Freddie, and I never felt any of that love throughout the film’s runtime, no matter how many times Freddie or Brian repeat the hollow statement of “We’re a family!”
Though Freddie did get the most screen time and attention, there are many details of his life that are looked upon only with a cursory glance. We’re told that Freddie’s relationship with his father is strained, but we never see or experience the root of that issue nor are we given any look into his childhood. We’re told Freddie is a musical genius (he was), but we don’t know where that genius stemmed from or why he wanted to become a musician. His sexual experimentation and homosexuality could have been explored in a deeper way through a more modern lens, but it’s told in the same way it’s always been told, with no attempts to be emotionally or visually nuanced. Sure, I could do some research on the internet and probably get the answers to my questions, but I assumed that a biopic about Freddie Mercury would help with that. The filmmakers had a chance to get inside the mind of Freddie Mercury and give some insight into his life and motivations, but they seemed content copying and pasting blurbs from his Wikipedia article onto a screenplay. This is just a wasted opportunity. Here’s an interesting tidbit about Queen that would have been worth talking about: Various songs from Queen’s first two albums, like The Seven Seas of Ryhe for instance, were set in and inspired by the fictitious fantasy world of Rhye, created by Freddie Mercury. He was presumably saving the idea for a fantasy novel of some sort. I can guarantee nobody’s read that on Wikipedia.
Luckily, there are two aspects to the movie that are worth the price of admission. Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury does a fantastic job, for one. The way he dances and explodes on stage, to his mannerisms and the way he talks, to his shy and introverted demeanor in his private life, to his body and facial structure. It’s 100 percent Freddie Mercury. It gets downright creepy in certain scenes, as if Freddie himself came back from the dead. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him nominated for a best actor Oscar, despite the unworthy film he is attached to. The second best thing about the film is the last fifteen to twenty minutes, which recreates his performance at Live Aid in 1985. Not only is the set a copy of the actual stage down to the finest detail, but the ending of the film acts as something of a miniature concert. The film practically recreates the Live Aid performance in its entirety, and successfully emulates the feelings of passion, energy, and excitement that the band gave off. In the movie’s last moments, it manages to very closely capture the spirit of Freddie Mercury and what he and his music meant to everyone. And then it ends. And then I get angry, because the rest of the movie wasn’t like that.
Freddie Mercury’s life was a unique and special one filled with joy, loneliness, love, sex, experimentation, and some damn good music. If his life was an ice cream sundae, it would have been a mixture of Neapolitan ice cream, rainbow sherbet, an assortment of fruits and nuts, infused with raspberry vodka syrup, with a macaron shoved into the side and completed with a mint leaf on top. If Bohemian Rhapsody wanted to encapsulate even a fraction of the story, soul, and legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen, then it should have aspired higher than vanilla.