Well-cast Malek tries to “break free” from superficial, moralistic and sanitised movie.
Take one of the greatest rock stars of all time, Freddie Mercury. Cast an enigmatic rising star, Rami Malek. Add a cliched script and by-the-numbers directing. What do you get? A film that reads like a Wikipedia entry.
Freddie Mercury was full of rich contradictions – great stuff for storytellers and filmmakers. But Bohemian Rhapsody never takes us even remotely close to Mercury the man. Instead, we get a good imitation of Mercury the performer. The blame for this disappointing, missed opportunity should be laid at the feet of its trouble director, Bryan Singer.
After a decade of production troubles, Singer was fired halfway through the shoot due to “absences from the set” and after clashes with the star. Malek puts in a commanding performance and is the best part of an otherwise lacklustre film.
Dexter Fletcher replaced Singer to finish the film and was given an Executive Producer credit. Popbitch reports Fletcher telling an assistant that the role of the EP was to “haul the director out of gay sex cinemas when a decision needs to be made”.
Other reviews have complained that Mercury has been “straight-washed”. This is not the case. He’s very out and very gay, but this “family friendly” film sanitises his life – there is no gay sex on screen.
There are oblique references to his wild excesses – crazy, drug-fuelled parties, anonymous sex and multiple partners, but these are quickly followed by moralistic judgements about his behaviour. The film wants us to think Freddie’s “lifestyle” made him unhappy. There is plenty of evidence that this was not the case.
A villainous gay manger and naughty gay party friends led poor Freddie astray. Then he becomes HIV-positive. You do the maths on what the film is suggesting here.
The bad dialogue, the colour-by-numbers directing and the absence of any real understanding of Mercury the man could all be forgiven except for the fact that the film is so joyless and moralistic – everything Freddie wasn’t. He was legendarily debauched yet, every time the film gets close to showing his fun side, it undercuts it with a morality lesson.
Worst of all, the film brings his HIV diagnosis forward two years earlier than the truth – and this is done cynically to coincide with Queen’s legendary Live Aid performance, making a ham-fisted point about “defiance in the face of his illness” etc.
The best scenes are when Malek is on stage making love to the audience, particularly at the Live Aid concert. It’s a good performance by a talented actor in a film that doesn’t explore its lead character with any depth or, to be frank, honesty. Don’t expect to see the real Freddie here. There’s very little bohemian and not much rhapsody.
On the up side, you could take your nan to it and leave with a happy tear in your eye and your middle-class morality in tact.