Biopics usually occupy one of two lanes: glossy, Hollywood-friendly products or historical-leaning narratives that pay more service to the facts of reality. It looked like we were going to get the latter when Peter Morgan was first announced as the writer of what would eventually become Bohemian Rhapsody, and for a time, that was exciting. But then the project that eventually became director Bryan Singer’s version of events was executed, and while there’s moments of energy within, it’s mostly a cotton candy telling of the life and times of Freddie Mercury and Queen.
Farrokh Bulsara had dreams of becoming the person he felt he was always born to be, and it took him becoming Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) to get there. But even when Farrokh became Freddie, there was still something missing, something it’d take years for him to figure out. Through the woman he loved (Lucy Boynton) and the ragtag family of band mates he’d eventually join up with (Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello,) two very important things would happen: Freddie would become the man he always wanted to be, and Queen would become a legendary act in music history.
The positive aspects of Bohemian Rhapsody are unfortunately outweighed by the negatives. For starters, the film’s approach to the story of Freddie’s personal life, and Queen’s formation / road to Live Aid, is lacking when it comes to two key areas of any good biopic: pacing and reverence to the source material.
In the area of pacing, the fault lies in the fact that Bohemian Rhapsody covers 15 years of history with great speed, but little detail. The film hits milestones such as the band’s first demo, the formation of the titular track, and Freddie’s falling out / reunion with the band in such a rapid pace that it doesn’t really land the significance of any of those moments. We see them happen, but we don’t really feel their impact too significantly before moving onto the next signpost.
When Queen gets to be Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie actually finds some energy to put out into the audience. You can see it in the decision to lean on the Live Aid concert as both a framing device and closing act to the film’s narrative. If this was a real-time recreation of that 20 minute set, or even a film that used that event as a lynchpin to keep revisiting throughout the film, there might have been a better economy of pacing.
Instead, the film feels like it rushes through everything else, just to get to that point, and when it gets there, it decides to put up its feet and linger, rather than finish as quickly as it started. It also doesn’t help that when it comes to Freddie’s infamous personal life of excess, Bohemian Rhapsody pays lip-service to the subject of his vices. Again, we’re shown Mercury mingling at a gay bar, having lavish parties with drugs and alcohol, and eventually starting to succumb to AIDS; but it’s in such a slight manner that it doesn’t feel genuine.
Thankfully, that criticism cannot be said about the main cast of Bohemian Rhapsody, as while the film’s script may be confused if it’s telling a real life history or tongue in cheek dramedy based on reality, the actors involved know exactly how to deliver the material. Rami Malek is going to get a lot of attention for playing Freddie Mercury, and he damned well deserves it. Even in moments that look like they were plucked from a sitcom version of an actor starring in a stock biopic, Malek, as well as the rest of the cast, maintain their dignity and pour their hearts into the picture.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a film that has a killer soundtrack and fantastic performances despite the material’s shortcomings. But when it comes to evaluating the film as a biopic, it’s a film that carries on (carries on), but ultimately doesn’t really matter. It educates the audience on the history of Queen and Freddie Mercury in the same way that a Cliff’s Notes page would teach a student about the book of their choosing.