Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Elyakim Suissa - October 29, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic centering on Queen and the life of its lead singer, Freddie Mercury, is a thrilling rock experience with excellent musical set pieces, one that fans will no doubt want to witness. Unlike the titular song, however, the film fails to connect the pieces of its dramatic storyline in a coherent way.

Rami Malek turns in a fine performance as Freddie Mercury. He is at his best during performance scenes and dramatic character moments, nailing Mercury’s exuberant real-life persona. Unfortunately, he and the rest of the cast are let down by a barely serviceable script.

Anthony McCarten’s screenplay focuses so much on Mercury that we are left with no clue about any other important character in Mercury’s life. For all the times a band member says something along the lines of “all four of us are so different from each other” (there are quite a few instances), Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon still seem like the same person once the credits roll. On top of that, the script is bloated with overtly theatrical sound bites suggesting that the world is about to be changed in almost every scene. Once the fluff is stripped away, there is not much left.

Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is fairly by the book throughout the personal storylines, but rises to new heights for the musical scenes. While “Bohemian Rhapsody” is playing, we see snippets of reviews manifesting themselves across the screen, over a smoky background soon to be filled with classic Queen imagery from the song’s music video.

Thanks to both Sigel and Malek, the Live Aid set piece (serving as the film’s climax) is easily the best part of the film. During one of Mercury’s audience-engaging chants, he raises his index finger, and thousands of seated audience members follow suit. From a bird’s-eye view, we see a domino effect of everyone quickly lifting their fingers. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s a sight to behold. During “We Are the Champions,” the camera is set at an angle below Mercury’s feet; we look up and see an imposing, god-like figure waving his hand as he orchestrates the audience.

There is one scene in particular that illustrates how poorly the dramatic storyline of Mercury’s inner life is handled. During a messy Q&A, the question of Mercury’s sexuality is raised. The visuals become distorted as ghostly audience heads appear around Mercury’s. This scene isn’t a natural development of the previous elements set up by the plot. Instead, it stands by itself with a startling escalation. In a way, this sums up the main problem with the movie: Freddie Mercury’s life is made into a montage of dramatic moments that don’t successfully connect to each other in a natural progression. Although initial director Bryan Singer’s firing during filming may have had some impact, there fortunately doesn’t seem to be any creative clashes between Singer and his replacement, Dexter Fletcher, in the finished product.

In short, Queen fans will want to see Bohemian Rhapsody, mainly for the delight and excitement to be found in the recreations of the band’s performances. Nevertheless, expect to be let down by the disconnected plot thread and two-dimensional supporting characters.