Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

“I can’t think of anyone more outrageous than me.”

Back in 2007, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story served up a brilliant deconstruction of the musical biopic. Fast rise, inevitable fall, full of love and lust and addiction. It is, in retrospect, a landmark film because of its willingness to lambaste the small sub genre while still earning its own emotional cues, and the people behind Bohemian Rhapsody would’ve been better off had they taken the time watch Walk Hard before going in, learning which clichés they could avoid with the slightest bit of creativity. Bohemian Rhapsody revolves around an inimitable, true artist, and it depicts his story with little to no originality. Freddie Mercury was a visionary; by comparison, this film fumbles around in the dark.

He was born Farrokh Bulsara to Tanzanian parents, nicknamed Freddie for assimilation purposes, and went on to become rock legend Freddie Mercury (Rami Mahlek). He grew up in Great Britain, endured bullying for his unique look attributed to four extra teeth (which he also credited for his astounding vocal range), and worked as a baggage handler at Heathrow while visiting pubs and watching bands perform by night. For all of those except the most die-hard of fans, Bohemian Rhapsody will be an origin story of sorts for a larger than life, mythic figure who could sing all the way out to the far reaches of the solar system. I wonder if he chose Mercury solely because it sits closest to the sun. After all, he did crave the limelight.

These early moments are about as conventional as biopics get; it’s more interested in lighthearted fan service than it ever is about being a character study, and a character Mercury absolutely was. Even when Freddie meets his future Queen bandmates, the film simply lacks pacing, launching their rise to fame at the speed of a shooting star. Personally, I’ve found the strongest musical biopics to be those about solo musicians, and I think there’s a reason that there aren’t very many about groups. Given Freddie’s passing, the rest of the band members have had creative control over this long gestating property, and Bohemian Rhapsody drags along because they’ve been determined to scrub all of the grime and graffiti off of their true rockstar lifestyle. I don’t really think Bohemian Rhapsody is an outright bad film; many people will like this mostly because it’s exactly what they expect, while karaoke aficionados will be in pure ecstasy. But with a PG-13 rating, it’s hard not to suspect that this picture isn’t telling the entire truth or dodging the darker questions altogether.

Unlike the quintessential and genre defying song the movie’s been named after, Bohemian Rhapsody mostly plays it safe, betraying the band’s most innate ideology to refrain from sticking to any single formula. As such, it should be of no surprise that the movie’s best moments arrive in the recording booth and on-stage, harnessing the creative energy that’s otherwise been relegated to the back burner of this stock script. If there’s any reason to see this film, it’s to watch the conjuring act that Rami Malek pulled off in his depiction of Mercury’s idiosyncratic, Liberace persona. The grand movements, the bravado, the speech patterns. It’s all there in an awards worthy performance that unfortunately exists in a mediocre film. One that shies away from pushing buttons, testing boundaries, or exposing real vulnerability and weakness. If we’re to believe Queen refused to compromise as much as the film suggests scene after scene, then why does the story live in such a happy, squeaky clean middle ground? Had it not been for the powerful performance from Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody would be no better or informative than an old behind the scenes VH1 production. This game of chess plays its queen piece like an absolute pawn.

“There was room for improvement.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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