After years in limbo, Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of Queen, has finally hit theaters after the loss of Sacha Baron Cohen as Freddie Mercury and the famous firing of director Bryan Singer. And it's fine as biopics go, though absolutely problematic the more you peel back the veneer.
The probably mostly already-known story of Queen follows the legendary rock band from meager beginnings to parade of hits, label interference, interpersonal strife and love and family issues—right up to the much-beloved 1985 LiveAid concert, dubbed by many as one of the finest performances by a rock act of all time; some photos and text-crawling fills in a handful of gaps thereafter. Rami Malek is fantastic as Mercury, however, all bluster and melodrama hiding a palpable self-loathing and sexual confusion. It's unfortunate, then, that his embodiment of Mercury helps tell only a half-tale.
Because while we're busy tapping our toes and elbowing our pals in the theater because we totally know that song, Rhapsody inconveniently reduces Mercury, his queerness and his Parsi roots down to a couple throwaway scenes or oversimplified dialog in favor of proving how close the band was, how innovative they were in the studio, how ahead of their time they were and how much everyone loved them. But we already knew that, didn't we?
Yes, we get a line about Mercury's bisexuality here or the evidence of his well-known hedonism there, but these moments are few and fleeting. We're told Mercury was lonely even in crowds; we're front and center for his coming-out to lifelong friend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton); we see the pressures of fame piling on though unsurprisingly not solving problems—but we never truly get into their consequences, nor do we pick up any particularly new information about Mercury's Parsi ethnicity or how he must have struggled coming to grips with his queerness. How about that scene in the rain with "Under Pressure" piping in from the background, though? Feels good!
Right up until it doesn't. But the end of the feel-goods doesn't come from the knowledge that Mercury contracted AIDS and died, never really reconnected with his family, that the reunion of the band was business-like or that he never felt OK when he wasn't onstage; it comes instead from realizing that a mainstream film had a chance to really dial up the representation and attempt to get us into the head of the finest voice in rock 'n' roll history, but chose musical montage or silly Mike Meyers jokes (seriously) time and time again instead. This is disappointing in a way that even Malek's tremendous performance—and perfectly fine turns from most of the rest of the cast—can't quite make up for. We must instead take solace that Bohemian Rhapsody might introduce a new generation to Queen's music, because it really was fantastic no matter how much it can't represent the real core of the story.
+Malek is great; the music, obviously
-Reductive and oversimplified; dumb Mike Meyers joke
Directed by Singer
With Malek, Bynton and probably some other people but whatever
Violet Crown, Regal, PG-13, 134 min.