Bohemian Rhapsody came to existence after a long and turbulent production process. Many names were attached to star, write and direct. Some were never actually involved in the project while some started their work and never finished it, like the director credited on the film, Brian Singer, who was fired with 2 weeks of shooting and an entirety of post production still remaining. Those were handled by Dexter Fletcher who was credited only as executive producer. Most of the problems reported around the project were always attributed to creative differences, and when there’re creative differences, you know that there will be compromises.And when there’re compromises, you know there will be little risk.
Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of the British rock group Queen and their lead singer Freddie Mercury. The film focuses on the years between Mercury joining the group in 1970 until the historical performance in Live Aid concert in 1985. It tells the story of the group development, Mercury’s lifestyle and sexuality, and the story behind the greatest hits. As well as the ups and downs of Mercury’s relationship with the band members and the business struggles between ignorance and greed.
The safe approach followed in making this film, in my opinion, is one of the problems of Bohemian Rhapsody. It is a very peaceful and kind film. It takes no risks neither in the story being told, nor the way it’s told, nor the way we see it on the screen. It just tells most of the chapters of the story that everybody knows in logical, and not historical, order, but this is not the bigger problem. The bigger problem is that the experience of being exposed to those chapters is not a good one. Very condensed, very brief, very jumpy and always eager to satisfy the ones with which all the creative differences took place.
The chapters of our story are very condensed, it is never enough for for only one thing to happen in one sequence. 3 or 4 or 5 key events must all happen in the same sequence, actually in the same scene if possible. Hell, bring events that happened years later or years earlier and just squeeze them into the sequences that we have, and if logic prevents forcing more incidents in a single sequence, then at least, let’s show how one of the songs was invented. Historical accuracy is not my problem, do what you want to serve your creative vision. My problem is that there’s no creative vision, it’s just stacking of incidents and facts on top and in the middle of each other.
The chapters are very brief, the film is very keen on finding closures. All problems erupt in a second and get solved in a second, and sometimes they erupt and get solved in the same second, maybe with the exception of Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin which is the best dramatic angle in the entire film. I wish the film was just about that, but it insists on being about a lot of things and never really take any of them seriously. Struggles with alcoholism and drugs, very brief. Struggles with journalists and the media, one scene. The fashion and the development of the wardrobe, barely there. Showcasing the development of the band’s popularity, not even there.
The chapters are very jumpy, I felt like Thor in Thor: Ragnarok everytime Doctor Strange makes a location jump. Why are we jumping those years? Why that long? How did those transformations happen? Is it simply because nothing that glorifies the band happened in that space of time? And this is where the film proves to be eager to satisfy the ones with which all the creative differences take place, and those are of course the living members of the band. The film depicts them as pure angels, not a single selfish mistake. It goes so far as to demonize Mercury himself in ways that never really happened! As a fan of cinema I find this unbelievable and as a huge fan of Queen I find this totally unacceptable. The guy sitting in front of me in the cinema made more ethical mistakes during the screening of the film than Roger Taylor did in his entire career according to the film!
When there’re such problems with the structure and the storytelling of a film, you look at other elements to save it. All the other elements had little problems but barely stood out either. The film is directed by the numbers up to its closing chapter. No scene stood out for me, no chance actually to capture something standing out in the middle of everything that is happening. As a matter of fact some outdated techniques were used to force more events into sequences and make them more brief, like the montage used with Another One Bites the Dust playing in the background and the hazy camera techniques used in the press conference .. they don’t do that anymore!
Most of the dialog sounds more like press releases from the group rather than sentences that humans would say. In terms of performance, Rami Malek is good but his performance is hindered by several factors. The most important of which is that because the film is so focused on events, we never got a real chance to study the character. The ups are not elevated high enough and the downs are not painful at all. Even the look with the large time jumps can be difficult to adjust to and, honestly, when I see old interviews and appearances of Freddie Mercury, I regret that Malek couldn’t capture the charm. On the other hand his stage dynamics was great by all means and his performance as a man, who is not necessarily Mercury, in such a complicated relationship with a woman is outstanding. He might get his nomination in light of what we’re seeing in terms of competition this year but I don’t know about winning. No other performance stood out or held any value worth mentioning.
The real redemption that the film offers is the music. Reliving the experience of those gems being born and presented, though that was also compromised by the historically inaccurate storytelling. The greatest sequence of all is of course the Live Aid concert. If it proves anything it’s how formidable this performance was. So formidable that all the problems that the film suffered from, and were still present in the scenes of the concert, couldn’t ruin it.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a safe film made under the close supervision of characters appearing in it and with the intention of pleasing them. It doesn’t do any fairness to the incredible dramatic and artistic richness that a life like that of Mercury must’ve had.