While certainly the box office winner of the weekend, it was hard not to come out of Brian Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody a bit underwhelmed.
It seemed to have all the parts a great film needs: a talented acting corps, a compelling subject, an experienced director and a killer soundtrack. However, the film itself was disappointing. The narrative never found its swing and never settled on one story; it was an ambivalent mix of a Freddie Mercury origin story, a shallow journey into the inspiration behind Queen’s music and an unsatisfactory man vs. himself conflict.
The film, as it presents itself, follows Freddie Mercury (named Farrokh Bulsara at the beginning of the movie and portrayed by Rami Malek) and his transformation from airport runway baggage man to the most famous rockstar in the world. Among this story are struggles with Mercury’s sexuality and the consequences thereof, including estrangement from Mercury’s once-fiancé, Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton), and his AIDS diagnosis. Much of the movie is also dedicated to the personality of the band and their journey to stardom, climaxing in the final sequences at Live Aid 1985.
The film jumped from point to point in the story of Queen with very little regard for all that happened in between, providing a disconnected and disjointed impression of the band’s rise from obscurity to stardom. Each scene seems almost independent from the last and arbitrary in nature, save for the few scenes of maximum consequence, such as the breakup of Mercury and Austin or Mercury’s decision to leave the band, defined by excellent acting. The story seemed entirely reliant on the soundtrack full of Queen’s biggest hits to keep the viewer interested instead of exploring the compelling and complex relationships in flux around Mercury himself.
Rami Malek deserves full praise. It is tough for an actor to fill the role of a man beloved by so many and deliver a performance both true to itself and representative of the significance of the individual whose story is being told. The supporting cast, outfitted by a group of actors mostly without blockbuster pedigrees, clearly has a significant amount of chemistry and, in the case of the band members, gives credence to the attitude of the band itself, which was quirky, unapologetic and boisterous.
In some cases, the casting doesn’t work, such as Mike Myers’ role as a hardballing record label manager. The role is not convincing due to Myers comedic background, adding to the constructed and inauthentic feel of the scene and story line. The leading female performance of Lucy Boynton, as Mary Austin, does well to complement Rami Malek’s character by convincingly portraying herself as both a catalyst for and a victim of Mercury’s success. Inherent in the interaction between the two is a clear understanding of the ebb and flow of a loving relationship, likely due to the fact that Malek and Boynton are currently an item.
For music fans, this film will entertain and have “Under Pressure” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the titular song, stuck in your head for at least a week. For Queen’s diehards and biopic film lovers, there is some merit in this latest film by Brian Singer, particularly real-world power couple Malek and Boynton’s performances, but not enough to distract from a story that doesn’t drive itself forward and relies too heavily on the soundtrack.
Bohemian Rhapsody is playing in theaters now; get tickets here.