Little Bohemian, Little Rhapsody - Bohemian Rhapsody
You ever see one of those shot-for-shot remakes of a classic? Something like the 1998 version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Yes, you had all the camera moves. Yes, you had the plot points. You even had notable performances. But lost in all of that is the soul that makes a move worthwhile. That is Bohemian Rhapsody. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. It just lacks the kind of perspective that makes a movie worth watching. As is often the case when a movie’s subjects are still alive and involved with the production, there is a certain sanitization that took place with this. The messy details are exchanged for tidier ones and the story suffers greatly as a result.
The film follows the general outline of the story of Queen and their enigmatic frontman, Freddie Mercury (played by Rami Malek). The movie starts by introducing us to Farrokh Bulsara, a 20-something baggage handler with buck teeth and a flare for the dramatic. His Zoroastrian roots and conservative upbringing are illustrated by quick interactions with his parents before we follow him to a concert where he meets the guys who would ultimately become his bandmates in Queen. While the group is getting started, Freddie meets and becomes engaged to Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton).
As the years go by, Freddie learns more about himself, more about his bandmates, and they struggle to hold it together and make good music. The film shows us a fictionalized version of the creative process behind some of their more unconventional musical sessions, as well as offering glimpses of the rockstar life Freddie was leading. The film concludes with Queen’s performance at Live Aid, which the film bills as the band getting back together for one last moment on top. The sequence is a shot-for-shot recreation of the band’s legendary performance, with the performers lip-syncing to original audio for the closest thing to actually being there.
The best way to describe what’s going on on screen is a series of well-produced music videos with reenacted Wikipedia entries interspersed. The end result is part cheesy, part fluffy, part glossy nonsense. This is more a Queen biopic than it should be, aiming to incorporate the other band members in part because they are still alive and were involved in the production. So instead of deeper biographical explorations, we get song origin stories and episodic melodrama. None of it really seems to capture anything deeper about the characters even when it is trying to.
The movie is filled with predictable notes that march confidently to an overly triumphant conclusion that skirts reality in favor of the upbeat. Was Live Aid really only successful because of Queen’s performance? No, of course not. It was the biggest concert of all time and would have raised millions of dollars whether or not the members of Queen had ever been born. But when your goal is to make a puff-piece, why just stop at musical triumph when you could save the world.
The one bright spot to the movie is Rami Malek whose carefully crafted performance somehow perfectly walks the line between caricature and character study. The story doesn’t do his mimicry any justice, but that is in no way his fault. If there is a reason to see this, he’s it.
Is it possible you will enjoy watching this? Absolutely. Rami Malek is a sight to behold as the mercurial Freddie Mercury. But if that performance were in service of a better story, we’d have a lot more to talk about.
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