REVIEW: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster — 20th Century Fox

The following is a review of Bohemian Rhapsody — Directed by Bryan Singer.

The best word to describe the reported principal photography process for Bohemian Rhapsody is ‘problematic.’ Production of the film was temporarily stopped due to director Bryan Singer. Bryan Singer was eventually fired before the film was even finished. Hoping to save the film, the studio behind it hired director Dexter Fletcher to complete the film and take it across the finishing line in the best state possible. As it turns out, Bohemian Rhapsody — the film — is not as interesting as the notorious making of the film seems to have been.

Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody begins at the time when a young Freddie Mercury (played by Rami Malek), then named Farrokh Bulsara, met and introduced himself to the remaining members of the band ‘Smile,’ and the film leaves you with Queen’s iconic concert performance at Wembley Stadium during the 1985 Live Aid. From start to finish, we get glimpses into his relationship with his family at home and his family on the road, his lifestyle, and the times when he may have been manipulated. However, the film cuts to the closing credits before we truly get to see Mercury live with his AIDS diagnosis along with his partner Jim Hutton.

As such, Bohemian Rhapsody, the film named after the unforgettable song, is a fairly safe, egregiously formulaic and by-the-numbers rock biopic about the ups and downs of a legendary performer. But it isn’t really much more than that. This is especially awkward since Mercury and the band at, one point in the film, yell at a producer for suggesting they stick to the formula. The band may not have been formulaic, but the film certainly is.

Although most biopics tend to bend reality to make the final product more effective, the extent to which it seems Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody has changed dates and events to make the final sequence more emotional is criminal, emotionally manipulative, ridiculous, and fairly disappointing. Reportedly, some of the band drama is a complete fabrication, and, from what I gather, Mercury had not been diagnosed with AIDS at the time of the 1985 Live Aid concert, which the film claims he had been. More can be said about how the film tries to neatly fix Mercury’s relationship with his parents on the same day that the concert is to take place. The timing, as presented in the film, of all of these events is ridiculous.

Another thing that I thought was a shame was that Mercury’s long-time partner Jim Hutton (here played by Aaron McCusker) only appears in a handful of scenes, with only one of them being notable. He feels like such an important figure in the last part of Mercury’s life, but, unfortunately, the film isn’t interested in the last few years of his life opting instead to go out on a high note with the film’s framing device: the Live Aid concert.

I think that some fans will also be disappointed with the way his lifestyle is tackled and addressed here, when his parties were deemed, by the rest of his band, to not be ‘their scene.’ He is made a lonely figure because of his lifestyle, even though Brian May and the rest of the band at one point agree that they appeal to outsiders. So, the film doesn’t dig deep enough into Mercury’s life, it doesn’t properly represent the timing of the important events in the band’s existence, and the band members who survived Mercury do not end up looking like the great family they may have wanted to be.

However, one of the best feelings a piece of filmmaking can give you is the overwhelming sense that you forget where you are and eventually want to stand up and cheer. I often think of how I felt when I saw Ryan Coogler’s Creed. Coogler made me forget where I was, and I felt the urge to stand up and cheer and scream for Creed to do this, that, or the other. I didn’t. But that was such a powerful thing about Creed — its centerpiece fight got to me in such a deep way.

Although I have made sure to mention some of the film’s deep issues, Bohemian Rhapsody — the film — gives you that same feeling. The final sequence of the film is the 1985 Live Aid concert, and, in those performances, Singer, Fletcher, or whoever truly finished the film somehow managed to turn a musician’s biopic into a pulsating and deeply captivating concert film. In those final minutes, every note works, and all elements of the film sing a beautiful tune. Though you can’t really give the film extra points for the music since none of it is new, the way Queen’s music is presented towards the end is powerful. I got chills, many people around me became very emotional — it was electrifying.

Had it not been for one other major element about the film, then the concert film sections — the gorgeous musical performances — would have been the only truly extraordinary thing about the film. But the fact of the matter is that the central performance in the film is so strong that the entire film is elevated because of it. Rami Malek walks in Mercury’s footsteps beautifully, moves like him so effortlessly, and perfectly embodies what audiences have perceived Freddie Mercury to have been like. Rami Malek’s performance in Bohemian Rhapsody, unlike his great performance in Mr. Robot, is dazzlingly loud in the best way imaginable. Malek is every bit as good as you would want an actor portraying the unforgettable Freddie Mercury to be.

Bohemian Rhapsody — the film — is nowhere near as good as the masterpiece it was named after. But that would always be more than a Herculean task. Although there are plenty of problems with the film itself, Rami Malek’s extraordinary performance makes this a film you absolutely should see, even though you probably should check up on the facts before you believe the events and the timing presented in the film.

6.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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