Bohemian Rhapsody chronicles the life of Freddie Mercury and the rise of his band Queen. The film starts with Mercury’s origins as an immigrant worker at the Heathrow Airport to him becoming both one of the greatest rock stars in music history and a symbol for the AIDS epidemic.
The story is full of the clichés seen in rockstar biopics: the protagonist is the black sheep of the family and joins other misfits to prove everyone wrong. They go on to prove everyone wrong and gain success until the protagonist’s flaws slowly rip the band apart. The protagonist has a moment of self-reflection and reconciles with the group at the end to give a final performance. The hero’s journey template is followed strictly and only the music, the cinematography, and Malek save the film.
Rami Malek holds the film together with his captivating performance as Mercury. Malek shines through the eccentrics of his character and charms the audience. In the film’s darkest hour, Malek’s performance is so poignant and troubled that it makes up for the generic plot. With awards season coming up, Rami will be a strong player this year.
Thanks to the brilliant discography of Queen, the music shines as well. While the voice of Freddie Mercury coming from the mouth of Rami Malek is surprising at first, it makes for a good stylistic choice as Rami captivates the audience through his stage presence. As an audience member, the generic plot of the film is overcome with memorable music spread out through the film, as well as stories about how they wrote and recorded each.
The conversation about AIDS and Mercury being the martyr for the fight is complex. On one hand, you could argue that the film brings the issue to the forefront. No story of Freddie Mercury is complete without mentioning the stigma around gay men and AIDS at the time. Following a character through his journey and it being ended abruptly by this disease is important to bring the conversation around it forward.
The other side of the coin is that the film, in a way, vilifies Mercury’s sexuality. The problems within the band arise as he falls deeper into sexual exploration and his love of men. His relationship with his assistant Paul (Allen Leech) is his downfall and the antagonist of the film ends up being Mercury’s own promiscuity. It’s just when his assistant Paul, walks into Mercury’s home that he decides to turn his life around because of the words of his ex-fiancé Mary (Lucy Boynton).
The film can’t be reviewed without recapping the drama that surrounded the production of the film. While Bryan Singer is credited as the director, he famously disappeared from the set of the London production just as the #MeToo movement had started to take form. Singer, most famous for his X-Men films, has had a reputation linked to abuse of young, aspiring men in Hollywood. While this floated around for many years without damage to his career, the Weinstein Effect caught up to him.
In addition to these, he’d been reportedly clashing heavily with the crew, the studio, and the star, Rami Malek. Dexter Fletcher directed the rest of the film after Singer’s disappearance, but guild rules fell in favour of Singer receiving credit, and Fletcher receiving a producer’s credit. Nonetheless, the film still presents a cohesive story and the change in director was not as obviously jarring as some other cases (most notably, Justice League). The film is cinematographically interesting and the musical performance scenes really stand out.
Bohemian Rhapsody is an enjoyable watch, but it is a big shame that the man known for pushing boundaries and funneling new ideas is immortalized with a film that does none of that.