The clearest microcosm for Bohemian Rhapsody’s many, many problems is when they drop Freddie Mercury’s first time exploring his sexuality in a goofy road montage set to Fat-Bottomed Girls.
Bohemian Rhapsody is the newest Bryan Singer film about the much-beloved band Queen starring Rami Malek as the beating heart of the band, Freddie Mercury. The film has undergone an almost decade-long struggle to make it to film with creative differences alike having writers and actors drop out and even resulting in Singer’s firing from the project after the scandals in his personal life once again were brought to the limelight. But truly most of the film’s issues can be traced back to two fingers in the pie, belonging to the remaining living members of Queen, Brian May and James Taylor. It is these two’s desire to make the film into a family-friendly extended commercial that kept us from getting a film that does justice to the incredible life that was lived by Freddie Mercury. No, it’s much more important that they tell us exactly who wrote the riff on Another One Bites The Dust than to give us any kind of lens into Mercury’s motivations as a person. In an absurdly bloated two hour and fourteen-minute film, they take the time to recreate Queen’s entire set at Live-Aid and leave Freddie’s death to AIDS as mere epilogic text on the screen, followed by some more that is very keen to let you know that Brian May and the others donated money to AIDS research as well. The way they treat Freddie’s sexuality is depressing, framing the story, intentionally or not, as his homosexuality being a hindrance to the band’s success. The heteronormative script makes the three straight men’s lives with wives and kids as being the desired lifestyle, and when Freddie leaves to explore his own desires, during an extended sequence that was almost entirely invented for the film, he is made to abandon his hedonistic ways in order to go back to the structure and normalcy of his friend’s mundane and traditional lives. The way they retcon Freddie’s sexuality to be motivations for Queen pushing success is borderline sick, most notably that they declare the band’s performance at Live-Aid as being driven by his desire to get one more performance before he dies, despite the concert actually transpiring two years before he was supposed to have been diagnosed. To co-opt a man who was an icon for an entire culture of people, who gave a voice to the voiceless, to peddle a broad advertisement for a band that has increasingly moved away from its homosexual roots to be distilled down to its least interesting and least significant nature-mere stadium anthems to be sung when drunk-is the definition of erasure.
But overlooking the more gritty details of Freddie’s story could almost be forgivable if what remained was still interesting. But unfortunately, Bohemian Rhapsody is the most uninspired, paint-by-numbers, laborious nonsense that is indicative of all the inherent problems of music biopics. There is no emotional weight to much of anything, as it is far more important to portray the writing of “We Will Rock You,” in a ridiculously posturing and plastic scene designed to make the overlooked members of queen look good. The amount of winking at the camera is unparalleled, with a brutal, almost five-minute scene, being constructed for the ultimate payoff of a Wayne’s World joke in 2018. Rami Malek does a great imitation of Mercury, but there is not enough substance in the script for it to have the emotional weight that both he and we crave. If there was any amount of honesty to the screenplay’s portrayal of mercury, Malek’s performance probably could have been one for the ages, but unfortunately, we’ll never know how good it could have been. I know that there will be people who like this movie. After all, it is formulaically constructed to be as broad and as likable as possible. But it could have been so much more. So if the idea of watching four people lip-synch to Queen songs in front of a poorly composited CGI audience sounds like a good use of your money, then, by all means, go see this film. But if you were hoping for anything even remotely meaningful, your time is best spent elsewhere.