Bohemian Rhapsody: Another One Bites the Killer Queen
Spoiler Alert: I will be talking about certain plot points in the movie that could spoil everything if you have not extensively researched the career trajectory of Freddie Mercury and Queen. If you want to avoid that, read the usual “too long, didn’t read” section and the “Oscar Watch” section. Also, check out our podcast “the Off-Screen Review”, they do a marvelous job dissecting this film.
TL;DR Score and Synopsis: 58/100 – A fun film that lacked depth
TO THE REVIEW!
From “Killer Queen” to “Fat Bottomed Girls” to “We are the Champions” to “Somebody to Love”, to “Don’t Stop Me Now” to “I Want to Break Free”, to “Radio Gaga” to “Under Pressure” to the other 600 hit songs Queen came out with over their tenure, Director Bryan Singer had no shortage of great content to work with in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Despite lacking some deep substance, the film was a fun, lighthearted tribute to the late Freddie Mercury and Queen.
Before I start going all Simon Cowell on this film, I want to be clear: I had a lot of fun watching “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As someone who grew up listening to a ton of Queen, it was great to see it all come together on the big screen. The behind the scenes of them putting together some of their hit songs such as “We Will Rock You,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and the legendary “Bohemian Rhapsody” made me feel nostalgic. This affinity made me more inclined to like the film, and I genuinely wonder what I would have thought if I did not have such a strong childhood attachment to this band. Sadly, time travel is not available yet and I cannot go back in time and erase all Queen songs from my memory (besides, why would I ever want to?). We will never know.
In terms of matching the right person to the right role, the decision to cast Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury came close to perfection. He portrayed a very believable, sympathetic and authentic version of the eccentric artist. They also mentioned this in our wonderful movie podcast “The Off Screen Review”, but Rami Malek could belt it when he needed to. At times, I had trouble deciphering whether he was singing or if it was old Freddie Mercury footage. This is a display and testament to his talent.
His acting performance electrified, the song incorporation balanced out well, and I especially liked the scene with the agent who felt “Bohemian Rhapsody” would never be a hit. However, from a development standpoint, just about everything else lacked in real substance. The supporting crew to Freddie Mercury seemed bland in comparison; chemistry between the various characters did nothing to stand out, and every time the film tried to incorporate any conflict, it felt forced. Freddie Mercury underwent a multitude of hardships in his life, and we got a glimpse into that, but nothing deeper than surface level.
Which leads me to my overarching complaint about “Bohemian Rhapsody”: although the film was a fun time, it felt more like a giant advertisement for Queen as opposed to a real film. I half expected a picture of a Queen’s “Greatest Hits” album to pop up on screen just before the credits saying: “available now on Spotify or for one low price of $14.99” only to have the legendary Billy Mays come back to life (may he rest in peace, the infomercial world will never be the same without him) and go “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!!!”
I get it: Queen revolutionized the music industry in more ways than one. Most people know that though. Unpacking their thought process behind the songs, the process in their rise to fame, or any one of the three separate conflicts they tried to cover would have pushed this movie over the edge.
Their rise to fame in this movie had to be one of the most unrealistic things I have ever seen. They played a few concerts at a bar (if that), recorded an album, then all of the sudden Elton John’s agent comes out of nowhere, took them to the promised land, and the rest was history. The film’s covering of Queen’s rise to fame was as realistic a portrayal as this old lady’s depiction of Facebook. I just sat there the whole time jammin’ along to Queen’s awesome tunes going “that’s not how this works, that’s not how ANY of this works.” The closest thing they had to a ‘struggle’ on their journey to “make it” was some people giving Freddie some dirty looks when he used his original last name (as opposed to Mercury). Oh, THE HORROR… Could we at least see them tanking at a concert or something?
Director Singer did a better job showing internal strife when they actually made it, but even that seemed off. Many of Freddie’s decisions lacked context, and we never really gained a true understanding behind the motives of a lot of the characters--not even their decisions on how they came up with songs that became mega hits (“We Will Rock You” kind of being an exception). It just seemed like a case of “I’m a genius, I’m doing this because I’m a genius, not because I worked my guts off to make all of this happen.” It was like the band was “in the zone” all of the time and never had to actually work for their accomplishments. Their fights seemed scripted as well, with not much of a believable repartee between the members. I was not sold, and I wish they did a better job at showing the true thought process and genius of the band.
Case in point: the writing of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Back in high school, I had an English teacher who made us overanalyze the living daylights out of this song in hopes of us finding its deeper meaning. Most people gave up after five minutes, claiming the song made no sense, and that it wasn’t supposed to make sense. I ended up coming up with a ridiculously elaborate theory that the song revolved around someone contemplating suicide (not going to go into the details here).
After spending class after class arguing passionately that this was CLEARLY the original intent of the song, I was ready to finally be vindicated by this movie. After all, why would they make a movie titled “Bohemian Rhapsody” and NOT explain the thought process behind the song? So when they got to that burning question “what is this song about?”, I perked up, ready to get on my high horse.
Freddie Mercury’s answer? “Well darling, that’s for the audience to decide…”
DAMN IT QUEEN. I THOUGHT I UNDERSTOOD YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS. I REALLY WENT OUT OF MY WAY TO VOUCH FOR YOUR GENIUS AND THIS IS WHAT WAS GOING ON IN YOUR HEAD WHEN YOU WROTE THIS SONG??? F$%K YOU GUYS.
Just kidding. Your music is still awesome and I am listening to it as I write this review (“Don’t Stop Me Now” is the current tune in my head, in case anyone cares). Still though, that’s hours of my high school life I will never get back.
On a more positive note, Freddie Mercury’s attitude toward handling AIDS was awesome. Even if it detracted from the entertainment value of the movie and lacked depth in showcasing his real struggle with it, his approach at the end was an attitude people should develop whenever life decides to throw a curveball at them.
Overall, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a fun time, even if it was shallow. For broader coverage of the inner workings of this film, be sure to check out “the Off-Screen Review” (third time is the charm, right? POWER OF THREE people. Power. Of. Three.).
Since “Bohemian Rhapsody” failed to explore anything in depth, it would be a huge shocker if it landed a “Best Picture” nomination. Miracles can happen, so I will give this film a one percent chance of being in the discussion come February 24th. That said, there are a few categories it could, at the very least, get nominated in.
Best Actor: Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury: He turned in a very dynamic, memorable and authentic performance that should keep him in the discussion leading up to the big day. I would be stunned if he does not get nominated.
Best Sound Mixing: While I spotted a few minor hiccups, the film nicely blended the beautiful sound of Queen into the film, coupled with authentic singing Rami Malek himself.
Best Costume Design: There’s almost a zero percent chance “Bohemian Rhapsody” takes home this award, but their ability to showcase the flamboyance of Freddie Mercury could land it a nice, distant courtesy nomination.