Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

So I finally got around to watching Bohemian Rhapsody. I know, I’m super late on this. Meh, what can I say?

It’s true what everyone has been saying, and what the awards season has been recognizing, Rami Malek is amazing as Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury.

The road from script to screen for Bohemian Rhapsody was bumpy and had a revolving door. Early on the film even included the involvement of Sacha Baron Cohen and David Fincher (now that would’ve been a much different movie).

Eventually, with Rami Malek and director Bryan Singer, the film started shooting in 2017 and made it into theaters late last year. It’s alleged to have been uncomfortable on set. Malek and Singer are said to have clashed often. As the film was finishing principal photography, Singer went AWOL (apparently, his mother was ill). Bryan Singer was fired and replaced by British director Dexter Fletcher, who completed the film (and received an Executive Producer credit).

As the band themselves would say, the show must go on.

I suspect because of Directors Guild rules, and a firm contract, Bryan Singer is still credited as the director of Bohemian Rhapsody and is set to receive a big payout, to the tune of 40 million dollars. Not shabby for a guy who was fired.

Bryan Singer reminds me of Milton Waddams from the Mike Judge movie Office Space. Due to an HR mistake (shocking as that may be) Milton continues to receive a paycheck after being let go. It’s one of the funnier bits of Office Space. I wonder if Singer also has a red Swingline stapler that he covets.

In any event, given its history, it’s nothing short of amazing that the movie got made at all. Unfortunately, Rami Malek’s performance is the best thing I can say about the movie.

Now that’s not to say the movie is bad. It’s not. It’s kind of . . . empty. Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t do or say anything. Look, it’s not like I expect a rock biopic to break new cinematic ground. However, I do expect any film that undertakes a story about a band like Queen and a personality like Mercury to offer some kind of refreshing perspective. This movie doesn’t.

It’s no secret that original bass player John Deacon retired from music and has had nothing to do with the band (aside from financial considerations) for years. In the movie, he appears to be deliberately marginalized with more than a touch of venom. Conversely, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor are given a much softer touch. As May and Taylor were the original shepherds of the movie, and two of its Executive Producers, I suppose that’s not too shocking.

Conspicuously, there is maybe five seconds of one of their biggest hits “Another One Bites the Dust”. I bet you just heard that bass intro in your head. Well, that’s about all you’ll see and hear in the movie.

Since songwriters receive royalties when a song is used in film or television and that rate is determined by amount of time used, it’s odd that one of their most familiar, and popular, songs was hardly present. Since original bassist John Deacon wrote the song, coupled with his portrayal in the movie, I can’t help but think there is some bad blood. But, that’s neither here nor there.

All said, the music in the movie is great . . . and I’m hardly a Queen acolyte.

Now in addition to Malek, all the performances are fine. Game of Thrones Little Finger Aidan Gillen shows up as the band’s manager and yes, both Mike Myers (three scenes) and current Queen singer Adam Lambert (one scene) pop up. The actors who play the band, and the peripheral players, give solid performances.

But just as Freddie Mercury was to Queen, Rami Malek is to this movie. Maybe that was the intention?

But Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t do anything. Yes, it plods along in a linear manner but it doesn’t lend any insight into Queen’s creative process. It doesn’t show any extreme band, creative, business or personal strife. It also doesn’t show any sign of Freddie Mercury’s life that may have been a factor in his contracting HIV and AIDS. The film dances around all of these subjects but doesn’t present any kind of interesting perspective visually or with the narrative.

Again, I don’t expect a movie like this to be revolutionary or reveal any salacious details around the band or Mercury’s life. But, a little more exposition would have added more depth and texture. It’s written well, shot well, performed well and edited well . . . Bohemian Rhapsody just doesn’t do or say much.

Now for those whining about the accuracy of the movie, let’s be clear, Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie. A scripted movie. Like anything scripted, there will be liberties taken. Get over it.

The one thing they get 100% right is the band’s performance at 1985’s Live Aid concert at Wembly Stadium. Watching that performance in 1985 I got teary eyed, as I did here. In 1985, I knew I was watching a performance that transcended the music. Trust me, I never imagined a time when I would’ve tolerated “Radio Ga Ga”. Ask anyone who watched Live Aid, I suspect they’ll single out two performances, Queen and U2 (maybe The Hooters).

To say Rami Malek crushes this part of the film doesn’t do his performance justice. That’s not hyperbole.

Attempting to portray someone with the dynamism of Freddie Mercury seems almost a fool’s errand. Well, almost.

Rami Malek is, and as the awards season has proven thus far, that fucking good as Freddie Mercury.

I can think of only two reasons to see the movie, Rami Malek and the music of Queen. It’s a fun watch and you’ll be gobsmacked by Rami Malek’s performance. But, if you are looking for anything else, you’ll be disappointed.

Setting aside the performances and the music, Bohemian Rhapsody, as a film, is neither great nor shitty . . . it just is.

FURTHER READING: