Bohemian Rhapsody is this year’s The Greatest Showman for me. Perhaps I should explain. I often feel like I toe the line of critic and fan very precariously. On the one hand, I am a film fan and a committed cinephile at heart; of course that is the reason why I wanted to start writing about movies in the first place! On the other hand, I write about films and critique them, always endeavouring to find the good and bad in any film, but also being honest and making sure the opinion presented is my own, and not the one I am expected to give.
Back to the aforementioned The Greatest Showman. Critically panned for the most part, this film went on to take the Box Office by storm, with a longevity well into 2018’s cinema line-ups following it’s Boxing Day release in 2017. A best-selling soundtrack (which admittedly is great) and a second wave of sing-a-long screenings, The Greatest Showman is a genuine phenomenon and proved that as critics, we don’t always align with the popular opinion.
Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic about legendary rock band Queen and their iconic singer Freddie Mercury, has given critics and audiences a sense of déjà vu – once again widely panned by critics but absolutely adored by audiences. This has probably been obvious from the start, but I was not a fan of Bohemian Rhapsody and whilst it is not totally without merit, its flaws unfortunately are what weighs heavy.
Let’s delve into the good points first however. Rami Malek’s performance is every bit as good as everyone is saying, and this will undoubtedly go down as one of the best performances in one of the weaker films of the year. Whilst the singing is wisely left to Freddie himself, Malek’s performance is not just a lip-sync extravaganza or an imitation, but a total embodiment of the character. In his mannerisms, voice, and most crucially his stage presence, Malek does a truly stunning job of reminding us just what an incredible and unmatchable talent Mercury was; a true frontman and the greatest showman of all time.
The music of Queen is so deeply ingrained within so many people and of course hearing all the classic songs again is a wonderful experience, particularly in the concert and performance scenes. Contrived studio stuff aside, the songs absolutely soar in the context of the stage, and the Live Aid sequence towards the end is simply electric. You can find a side-by-side comparison online, but the attention to detail in the faithful recreation of one of the most iconic live performances of all time, is astounding.
Where the film fails is where so many other biopics fail. That being that it absolutely fails to present anything new. The plot is so by the numbers and it ticks every single biopic cliché, that it ultimately makes for an incredibly tedious watch. The creative control of band members Brian May and Roger Taylor is extremely evident and it makes for an incredibly sanitised experience with them coming out of it particularly well.
Perhaps where this film is most problematic is in its depiction of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. Initially, it is very much the forbidden fruit which is something that makes sense within the context of the time period, but later it is used as the catalyst for Mercury’s downfall and the thing which leads him down a darker path. This is particularly problematic, and whilst the relationship between Mercury and Mary Austin (Boynton) is touching, it comes across that the film’s intention is to say that had he stayed in this relationship, he perhaps wouldn’t have taken the path of drink and drugs. Had the film provided more background to this and framed everything within the context of the views of the time, then it would’ve been more palatable, but as it stands, its depiction of homosexuality as being something debauched is as mentioned, problematic.
I saw this movie so you don’t have to…but you will anyway! Ultimately, there is a falseness to Bohemian Rhapsody that hampers the overall enjoyment of the film. From the obviously CGI’d crowd of Live Aid, the glossing over of perhaps more unsavoury events, and the visual perma-filter which seems to be masking the inadequacies of the film’s narrative, there is always the nagging sense that this film could’ve been something more. Mercury was a unique and incredible talent, and yet the film seems content with being just another biopic. Whilst the performance from Malek is a stunning tribute, the film unfortunately never reaches the same heights.