Queen’s bestselling album is Greatest Hits. Their second bestselling album, Greatest Hits II. Bohemian Rhapsody, fittingly, is a film made for the greatest hits, a checklist of Wikipedia moments and musical biopic cliches that the film doesn’t seem to realize are cliches. Playing the fabricated EMI executive Ray Foster, Mike Myers states, “Let’s stick with formulas. Formulas work.” Despite the way that Queen clashes with Foster and his way of doing things, Bohemian Rhapsody falls right into the biopic as countless other have before.
Bohemian Rhapsody hits every mark that Walk Hard parodied over a decade ago. Following Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), Bohemian Rhapsody hits every familiar beat in the history of Queen. Along the way, Bohemian Rhapsody has the disapproving father, Mercury’s loving girlfriend (Lucy Boynton) who gets left behind in Mercury’s rise to stardom, the grandiose living, the overindulged ego, and the eventual redemption that basically every generic musical biopic seems to have. Mercury could have easily been replaced by Dewey Cox.
Bohemian Rhapsody explains every minute detail any viewer might have about Queen, from the supposed way that “We Will Rock You” was recorded, to why Mercury’s teeth-filled mouth is to thank for his excellent range. Bohemian Rhapsody is wink after wink, right down to Myers stating that no one will ever headbang in a car to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while staring directly at the camera. Bohemian Rhapsody becomes little more than a nostalgia device that wants to remind the audience of things they already know.
That wouldn’t necessarily be so bad if there was any identity to Bohemian Rhapsody. Considering Mercury is one of the most dynamic lead singers in history, a film telling his story deserves at least some of that flourish. Directed lazily by the increasingly mediocre Bryan Singer and written by Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour) and Peter Morgan (The Queen) – who know how to hit all the expected landmarks – there’s no artistry to this story of Mercury’s life. From what has been reported, the surviving members of Queen wanted Bohemian Rhapsody to be a celebration of Mercury’s life, without focusing on his weaknesses. In doing this, Mercury’s story has been neutered to the point that this could be almost any rock band.
The construction of McCarten and Morgan’s script is frequently laughable, as they feature montages of tours that literally have the city names flying at the screen, or hilariously poor reflections of how these songs came to be. Of course the music is excellent, but the needle drops are terrible, especially when “Under Pressure” kicks in when Mercury is of course under the most pressure in the film.
To fit in every important moment in Mercury’s life (besides the truly dark ones, mind you), McCarten and Morgan throw together various points into one scene that just seem ridiculous. At one point, Mercury proposes to his girlfriend Mary, then the other members of Queen burst in to let Mercury know that they’re going on tour in America. There’s no attempt to even mention the just-occurred proposal, and seem like two completely unrelated scenes slammed together, just to fit everything in.
The worst example of this comes the day of Queen’s iconic Live Aid performance, which is intercut with the tying of all the film’s loose ends. In one day, Mercury reunites with three separate groups of people that he’s become estranged from, and the film’s editing hints that not only did Queen’s performance unite the world, but that they were the lynchpin in making Live Aid a success. The unfortunate editing is a shame, considering the Live Aid performance is easily Bohemian Rhapsody’s best scene and the one that the entire film has building up to.
Beyond all the mediocrity on display in Bohemian Rhapsody, Singer’s take on Mercury’s life plays completely false. The concert performances always seem like they were filmed on a soundstage, with the crowds added later and even when they perform “We Will Rock You” at Madison Square Garden, these live performances aren’t as grandiose as they should be. McCarten and Morgan’s restructuring of events manipulates the truth for narrative impact, like how Queen break up and reunite, and Mercury discovers he has AIDS before Live Aid – both events that didn’t happen.
Malek’s performance even plays false at times. In wide shots, Malek impeccably pulls off Mercury’s mannerisms – especially during Live Aid. But when Singer zooms in on Malek, it always feels like Malek hiding behind comically large false teeth and mustache. Malek is doing an impersonation rather than an actual performance, even though it’s frequently quite a good impersonation. Malek is great at the broader gestures, but struggles with the smaller, more intimate moments.
Bohemian Rhapsody is the musical biopic in its most basic, hackneyed, paint-by-numbers form. Considering it’s focused on a performer known for his electricity, Bohemian Rhapsody’s is completely devoid of any excitement or grandness. Bohemian Rhapsody won’t rock you, it’ll only bore you.