(based on a true story, written by Anthony McCarten, directed by Bryan Singer)
I was so hyped for this film. I adore Rami Malek, I find him hypnotising to watch, and I had always wanted to see an honest biopic of the legend that is Freddie Mercury. However, after keeping tabs on the film via social media, I saw that Bryan Singer, who is currently under investigation for sexually assaulting minors (yep, he’s an awful person), was directing this. Already I felt trepidatious, but I thought to myself, ‘Alright, let’s give it a go, it might end up being a decent film.’
And then I watched it.
To start, the sound, in general, is poorly mixed. In my opinion, the decision to have everyone lip sync rather than have the actors have creative freedom left performances feeling either limited or distracting. Costume-wise the designer did not seem to be bothered about all the actors looking exactly the same across the span of 20 years, save for the occasional haircut. Every scene feels like watching an Olympic sport in which the goal is to finish each scene in the quickest fashion possible. It felt like the post-production team got a note saying ‘Keep it exciting and never let a scene breathe’.
From the conception of this film, there was a kerfuffle over what it should actually cover. Originally, Sasha Baron Cohen was to play Freddie Mercury, and the film was going to do a supposedly gritty biopic of the last few years of Mercury’s life. He ended up leaving, and following that is a huge mess over who would direct. At the start, Dexter Fletcher (credited as the executive producer in the end) was to direct it, then left due to creative conflicts with the producer. Bryan Singer was then signed on to direct – then, after the scandal centred around Singer, he stopped turning up to set three weeks before the filming finished, where Fletcher eventually took the helm. This is most likely why this film ended up as a giant mess of confusion and indecisiveness.
The problem I found with Bohemian Rhapsody, ultimately, is that the film could not make up its mind as to what it wanted to discuss. It wants us to feel connected to the Freddie and Mary romantic-then-friendship story, whilst also feeling gutted Queen was falling apart. The sub-plot of a gaslighting manipulative Paul (who he actually was, in regards of the relation to Queen, is never clear if you never heard his one line of introduction). We then have to feel sad when there are rifts within Freddie’s family. Then care about Bob Geldof’s dedication to raising money for Live Aid because… he’s nice, I guess? And then we have to watch an entire recreation of the famous Live Aid concert when it served no purpose to the story whatsoever. All in the space of two hours. Stories end up being cut down, Mary and Freddie are suddenly fine with their relationship falling apart and are now friends, the drummer who was a supposed babe magnet suddenly has a wife and kids. The audience is supposed to fill in the gaps for themselves, but what about the people who have extremely limited knowledge of Freddie’s personal life? What are we meant to do? Just sit and accept it? It is not like the film is meant to honour the dedicated Queen fanbase, as the order of album releases and live shows do not cohere with the actual events of what happened.
It all comes across as someone penning down what they remember from Freddie Mercury’s life and plopping random songs in-between, leaving me bewildered as to what was going on. For instance, in the penultimate scene where Freddie and random-boyfriend-who-is-only-in-two-scenes-but-they-are-a-couple-now-apparently Jim meet with Freddie’s parents before Live Aid, there’s just a random woman sat between the parents… and they never say her name, or what relation she is. Is she a neighbour from across the road? Did Freddie’s sister change ethnicities? Is she Mary’s child and never told Freddie he’s the father? I don’t know, and the film is not particularly bothered about telling me.
Malek is okay, but does not have the dialogue or the breathing space to demonstrate his talent. The other three men – and I am calling them that, because that is what they all looked like to me, just some blokes who are Freddie’s friends that out-of-the-blue kicked off a song to advance the plot and/or start another montage – have no depth at all. Brian May seemed so jolly and happy all the time, almost as if real-life Brian May (coincidentally the executive music producer) tapped on McCarten’s shoulder to say ‘Hey, make me look good, alright?’. There was no chance to explore the band’s dynamic, possibly because the co-producer was the lawyer/manager of Queen, Jim Beach. So, I’m guessing he probably did not want people thinking they had too many arguments throughout the band’s history. The management team in the film, who do what they can to give a good performance, are shunned away as ‘random yes-men who limit or condone Freddie’s behaviour’. No one was compelling enough for me to care about them. At all.
Lastly, and fundamentally, what upset me was the erasure of bisexuality. In the scene where Mary and Freddie’s relationship fall apart, the conflict starts with Freddie saying he has been considering that he is bisexual, to which Mary flat out shuts him down and says, ‘No, Freddie, you’re gay.’ How am I supposed to feel, as a bisexual myself? That I am merely a stepping point to being gay? Thanks, McCarten, I feel so included in a film where my sexuality is considered irrelevant, even though we could have had some decent representation of bisexuals in mainstream media. This is what I mean by the film not deciding what it wanted to focus on. There was no time to really dig deep into Mercury’s sexuality and how he feels for Mary and his other partners, whether he was bisexual or gay or any other label. The audience is just blatantly told and moves on because it is in such a rush to cover everything else, leaving all the events of the film feeling empty and meaningless.
Overall, the issue is that this film was made too early. I do not think any of the people in these true events should have participated in the making of this film at all, let alone be an executive producer. The film was so focused on making everyone appear like a good person that the film, ultimately, became an uninteresting highlights compilation. I think we will have to wait a long time before we are given the honest and de-glittered Freddie Mercury biopic we want.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐
Deary me, I apologise for this angry post after my hiatus. I know it has been a long time since I’ve done a review, mainly because of… money. It’s expensive to pop into your local cinema and see a film you want to watch immediately. So, I now wait until I can rent it on DVD. Yes, you read me correctly, Cinema Paradiso does DVD renting services. So, hopefully, it will be a lot easier for me to watch films, and, in consequence, write more reviews for you!
Also, I am excited to say that I have started a podcast with my dear friends! We take a moment to guess how we think a film is going to go, and then we watch and review it. It has been such fun doing it and I hope you can check it out for yourself. It’s called ‘Let’s C How It Goes‘ and you can find it here:
Until the next review!