At least there were Queen songs – that was fun.
Synopsis: Singer Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bass guitarist John Deacon take the music world by storm when they form the rock ‘n’ roll band Queen in 1970. Hit songs become instant classics. When Mercury’s increasingly wild lifestyle starts to spiral out of control, Queen soon faces its greatest challenge yet – finding a way to keep the band together amid the success and excess. (20th Century Fox)
Starring: Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, and Ben Hardy
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Director: Bryan Singer
Rating: PG-13 (Canada)
Running Time: 135mins
Bohemian Rhapsody is the new biopic about Queen, but more specifically Freddie Mercury – and it’s totally fine. Its not revolutionary, its certainly not an oscar contender as many have hoped it would be, but it is far from bad. In fact its quite a lot of fun to watch, despite its issues.
The obvious highlight of the film is Rami Malek’s outstanding performance as Mercury. His every look is weighted with meaning and tension, and so much so that in a superior film, Malek would be in the oscar conversation already. The singing isn’t actually done by Malek himself, instead a compilation of master tapes from Mercury himself as well as additional vocals from singer Marc Martel. However, Malek sells his every movement, every strut, every flourish, every pelvic thrust. It feels less like watching an actor play Freddie than watching a restored tape of the man himself. For that, the film, and especially Malek deserve great credit. It’s a difficult task to recreate someone physically, vocally and tonally, especially one who lived in the public eye for so long – but Bohemian Rhapsody definitely pulls this off.
Additionally to the film’s credit the sound design is marvellous, as it should be in a film based about Queen, and the songs are (as always) toe-tapping, head bopping fun. In one occasion late in the film “We Are The Champions” is used to great effect, creating the best scene of the film and one of the only genuinely emotionally resonant scenes of the film. Speaking of this scene, the last 20 minutes are excellent, even if they are simply a recreation of the 1985 Aid for Africa Queen set (which you can watch now on Youtube…so…)
This scene actually exemplifies one of my main issues surrounding the film – that being it’s inconsistency tonally, directorially and editorially. Within the scene, as with many other concert scenes throughout the film – there are several unique and very interesting camera set ups. A notable example is a shot from inside a piano facing Freddie’s fingers, moving laterally to follow his dexterous movements. This shot is incredibly interesting, and is something not often used, but it lasts for all of about 2 seconds before reverting to a different shot. The entire movie feels like this – introducing interesting shots and visual ideas before quickly moving past them to focus on more derivative methods of shooting. The film is littered with creative concepts that are never fully fleshed out or explored, both visually and tonally. As well, the film will often introduce scenes that feel as if they were originally longer and simply edited down into montages. This happens numerous times and becomes rather distracting. The editing of the film can be rather distracting at times – with titles appearing and flashing along to the beat in various colours which were rather ostentatious, and the writing is far from great. The film follows every typical beat of a biopic, from the band “taking a stand” against an unruly manager to the disapproving parents. It’s formulaic and boring at times – and when it makes an attempt at a conclusion it feels rushed, laughable and poorly constructed – the story and script is a mess.
In addition to this, the film’s exploration of Freddie’s sexuality – which has already come under fire online, is strangely handled. Without spoiling certain events in the film, it seems to equate Mercury embracing his sexuality with his embracing a hedonistic lifestyle. This area of issue is worthy of its own essay, so it does not need to be explored in too much detail here – but it’s an area of the film that could anger many people, and should be discussed in future.
Overall, Bohemian Rhapsody is a fine film. Its sloppy and poorly constructed, but contains a wonderful performance from Malek and a fantastic climactic concert sequence. The Queen songs are worth the price of admission alone, but other than that you could probably skip it. As it seems to be with most biopics these days, another one bites the dust.
*Bohemian Rhapsody opens in theatres on November 2nd*
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