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Bohemian Rhapsody: A Fun, if Flawed Greatest Hits Montage

Oscar Kim Bauman, Scarlet Staff

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“Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Bryan Singer-directed, Rami Malek-led Freddie Mercury biopic-Queen movie hybrid is an inside and out, confusing, and contradictory experience. It deals with the greatest heights of rock-and-roll debauchery, yet feels squeaky-clean. Malek’s Mercury is a force of nature, yet Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, and Joe Mazzello as John Deacon feel underdeveloped at best.  

When thought about critically, “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” construction, plot, editing, and script are flimsy and cliche. This is a film that, if made about any other subject, would be highly unwatchable. Yet Malek’s magnetic charisma as Mercury and Queen’s iconic, infectious music pulls all the disparate pieces together into a product that, though far from perfect, is undeniably a good time.

Even the story of the film’s production is one of twists and turns. Malek was the third actor attached to the lead role, after Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Whishaw. Singer, the film’s ostensible director, mysteriously left production amid rumors of acrimony with Malek and was replaced by Dexter Fletcher, who receives an executive producer credit.

Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor are credited as creative consultants, and allegedly had strict control over the film’s script. Baron Cohen said in a 2016 interview that either May or Taylor had asked that Mercury’s death take place halfway through the runtime, with the rest of the film showing the band’s continued success. Ultimately, that proposal didn’t stick, and instead “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a straightforward, chronological telling of Queen’s career.

Early in the film’s marketing, some people expressed concern that the film would gloss over Mercury’s relationships with men and his AIDS diagnosis. While those fears proved unfounded, and those elements are shown on screen, little of note is done with them. They are depicted in a perfunctory bare-minimum fashion, each boiled down to a series of moments.  

Mercury’s experience with AIDS becomes a bloody cough, a doctor’s visit, a brief conversation with the band, and expository text discussing his death at the start of the credits. His sexuality becomes a wink at a trucker, a montage of leather bars, and a meeting with long-term partner Jim Hutton, played by Aaron McCusker.  

Other aspects of the story are executed with more grace. The scenes depicting Queen’s creative process feature the cast at their most engaging, and it is in these scenes that the band’s dynamic shines. A long sequence revolving around the birth of the song from which the film takes its title is particularly engrossing. In an isolated farmhouse, the members of the band experiment with increasingly absurd recording techniques and face the incredulity of a stodgy record executive, played by Mike Myers in a tongue-in-cheek reference to his role in 1992’s Wayne’s World.  

Malek’s performance is “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” true centerpiece. Even as a young Farrokh Bulsara working at London’s Heathrow airport, Malek conveys the innate, irrepressible star power of the man who would be Freddie Mercury. With such a whirlwind creative power, almost over the top in its flamboyance, the rest of the cast can hardly be blamed for being unmemorable in comparison.  

Even as his performance is primarily larger than life, Malek’s Mercury is most affecting in his more vulnerable moments. Such moments tend to come when Mercury is alone with his love interests, the aforementioned Hutton, as well as Mary Austin, played with a refreshing down-to-earth-ness by Lucy Boynton.  

In one moving scene, Mercury tearfully comes out to Austin, ending their relationship. As he begs her not to leave him, he tells her “I want you in my life.” “Why?” she responds. Mercury’s emotional immaturity is shown again in another scene, in which Mercury, in a drunken, post-party daze, first meets Hutton, working as a waiter at his party. After Hutton and Mercury share a kiss, Mercury says “I like you.” Hutton replies “learn to like yourself,” a wake-up call for Mercury to stop burying his feelings in indulgence and excess.   

Moments like these give the audience a glimpse at the film that “Bohemian Rhapsody” could have been. Unfortunately, these moments are standouts because they are so unrepresentative of the rest of the film, which is largely formulaic, feeling less like a drama and more like a documentary. The viewing experience is reminiscent of a combination of a bunch of Queen music videos and Wikipedia page snippets.

Whatever mistakes “Bohemian Rhapsody” makes are washed away by its final sequence, a full-length, shot-for-shot remake of Queen’s iconic performance at Live Aid. The cast is dead-on in their resemblance to the band, and Malek flawlessly replicates Mercury’s swagger and stage presence. When he bows at the end of the set, telling the crowd “we love you,” you believe it. At the end of the day, what more can you ask for?  

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Bohemian Rhapsody: A Fun, if Flawed Greatest Hits Montage