Crafting a biopic of music icon Freddie Mercury and the rock band Queen, the latest Oscar hopeful contender movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” offers your typical biopic cliches and trappings. The film opens up live, only to go back to flashbacks, and the musical numbers and set pieces pull off just the right amount of energy to please any Queen fan, and even audiences who aren’t as familiar with Queen for that matter.
Playing Mercury is actor Rami Malek, who is absolutely electrifying and natural in the role here. He truly embodies a humane and driven performances, and he also captures the vocal range and charisma of Mercury quite well. After winning the Golden Globe, there is no doubt Rami Malek is one of the front-runners to win the Best Actor Oscar, however Christian Bale holds the slight advantage over Malek in the Oscar race.
There are quite a few outstanding moments in the film as well, especially how the album Bohemian Rhapsody was created with all of the formulas stacked against them. However the film derails into your standard play-by-the-numbers music biopic that offers the familiar material that we often see with films being released each year. With the exception of Olivier Dahan’s far greater and less commercially appealing “La Vie En Rose” which was a unique biopic about the life of Edith Piaf, as well as Anton Corbjns artfully devastating “Control”, and Todd Hayne’s experimental “I’m Not There”, most biopics have a typical formula that writers and directors tend to stick so they don’t alienate wider audiences. Even Bill Pohland’s “Love and Mercy” about Beach Boys front-man Brian Wilson explored more complexities than your typical music biopic.
The formula features the typical rise and fall of stardom that includes exciting moments of fame that ends up being ruined by scandals, sex, drugs, illness, artistic disagreements and the band splits up, and the story ends in redemption and tragedy all with old-age make-up and wigs. Sadly the film avoids a lot of complexity, and the narrative feels rushed by showing all the basic highlights of Queens history. A more complex and mature film would have dived more into Mercury’s sexual repression and his anxieties of being gay in the 70’s. The material probably would have been more serviceable and engaging had it been a mini-series, or even a longer movie.
The film does succeed in capturing Mercury dealing with his Indian heritage, along with living a disapproval life from his parents. The film also shows the insecurities Mercury had with his teeth that made him mumble. Mercury ends up finding love with Mary (Lucy Boynton), as he deals with his suppressed homosexuality. Along the way he ends up burning bridges, grows his ego, hosts parties, comes down with HIV, and embarks on a solo career where he abandons the band.
As stated above, had Bohemian Rhapsody been a mini-series, it would have dived into more of the lifestyles of the band, and the relationships, and other successes and downfalls the band faced. Ultimately the film only centers around Mercury. Meanwhile the other band members feel lightly sketched and never fully reach all the character depth that is needed.
There is a funny inside joke of the film of Mike Myers who play’s a record producer that is unrecognizable who rejects the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” as being the launch single on the 1975 masterpiece album “A Night at the Opera” because he feels it’s too pretentious and just too long to play on the airwaves. It’s hilarious because you recall the iconic scene in 1992’s Wayne’s World where Wayne, Garth, and pals lip sing and head bang to the song.
Another great moment when the album is released we show all the music critics panning the album with negative quotes. Now “A Night at the Opera” is greatly celebrated. Overall, director Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspect) has crafted a biopic that leaves you wanting something deeper, something more complex and essential. Thankfully the performance by Malik, along with the music helps elevate the experience from being completely dull. Outside the film’s deep flaws, Malek truly delivers an extraordinary performance that deserves all the praise it has earned. His performance alone makes the film watchable.