October 29, 2018

CINEMA | Rami Malek Upstages 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

"There's only room in this band for one hysterical queen."
Rami Malek Bryan Singer | Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody, the fast and loose musical biopic of singer Freddie Mercury and the band Queen's meteoric rise, plays like a revisionist vision of the musical group's history thanks to bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor's strong involvement. As explored in the film, the group was so groundbreaking and original yet this film feels so overly familiar and many parts could have been about any band and not the singular, unique entity that was Queen.

Rami Malek is electric as Mercury and nearly the only convincing thing in the film despite his crazy distracting prosthetic teeth. However, this version of Mercury is so sexless and tame with his homosexuality, drug use, and other debaucherous behaviour only ever really lightly suggested.

Directed by now-disgraced X-Men filmmaker Bryan Singer (who received sole credit) before Dexter Fletcher took over duties with weeks left of shooting and oversaw post-production, it's a painfully straightforward, generic musical biography with all touchpoints mercilessly mocked in the brilliant parody Walk Hard.

Bookended by the band's iconic performance at Live Aid, the recreation of the crowd and energy of the music is unreal despite its heavy over-reliance on CGI. However, even that climatic performance, considered one the finest live musical performances ever, is sullied by its retconning as somehow motivated by Mercury's tragic AIDS contraction despite taking place two years before his believed diagnosis in 1987.

The cast is ultimately a mixed bag of mostly capable but lost young British actors. Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy as guitarist May and drummer Taylor—both executive producers on the film who wielded control of the much-needed music rights—come off as laughably righteous with multiple scenes of them confronting Mercury's prima donna antics or them extolling their own virtues.

Bryan Singer | Bohemian Rhapsody

I found Joseph Mazzello's performance as bassist John Deacon particularly amusing with his wild hair changes, strange interactions, and altogether random feeling appearances as the lesser prominent member of the band with the least to do. In real life, Mazzello long ago retired from public life and much of any association with Queen's dealings including this film's production.

Writer Anthony McCarten's script is so painfully by-the-numbers and reads like a condensed Wikipedia article where montages or laboured sequences of the band thinking of their later famous musical riffs feel so forced. There are so many cringe-worthy scenes including how Mercury's homosexuality is clunkily explored, his strange personal relationships, and the laughably awkward reveal of his illness. It's truly remarkable how conventional Singer (and possibly Fletcher) dramatized the incredibly explicit life of one of the most iconic rock stars in history.

One of the few self-aware yet overdone highlights is Mike Myers sporting a thick Scottish accent as a disapproving music executive referencing his real-life part in Queen's enduring legacy (see Wayne's World) and renaissance. Lastly, Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Mercury's long-time companion, offers a touching performance, but she's basically regulated the stereotypical long-suffering wife to a great man character archetype.

The ultimately shallow film is such a mess aside from the spectacular dramatization if its more thrilling musical scenes. It's so disappointing how Bohemian Rhapsody fails to live up to and actually washes over Mercury's undeniable cultural legacy while wasting Malek's otherworldly, dynamic performance. The last twenty minutes will certainly "rock you" though.

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