By Mario Ricciardi
As of 2018, there should be a rule that any biopic about a rock star has to be a 12-episode miniseries. I specify rock star because that’s what “Bohemian Rhapsody” is (a full band would require more). The film has little to do with the band Queen so much as it has to do with the life and times of Freddie Mercury.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” hustles the audience through the band’s rise to fame, the band’s break up and then getting back together for one final performance, but it is clear that Freddie is the reason for every peak and valley. Maybe rightfully so. The film tries to show so much that it rarely gets the chance to reveal anything more than a Wikipedia page’s worth of information.
The film’s strongest takeaway is the emptiness of excess. Freddie Mercury is portrayed as a man who has everything and nothing all at the same time. From his lavish lifestyle to a larger-than-life personality to match, he becomes everything he ever wanted to be. The catch is that all the things that he had dismissed to rise to fame end up being the things that he yearns for the most.
Another trope in a film full of them, this one proves to be the most cautionary and resilient after the credits roll. There is the life that is made and pursued (success, power and immunity) and there is the life that is handed to you just by being alive (family, friends and talents). All these things are prevalent topics in the movie’s portrayal of Mercury, but they’re often pushed aside for the visuals, costumes and music.
The act of balancing a biopic with fan pleaser is never quite achieved, but there are sparks of each for both. Most prevalently is actor Rami Malek’s portrayal of Mercury. Malek completely disappears in the role and when everything else in production fails, his performance is the clear in the storm. After watching the movie, I cannot imagine anyone else carrying the film on their shoulders the way Rami Malek did.
If properly executed, (and I know this is like sacred ground for film geeks), we could have had a performance right up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker. Unfortunately, despite Malek’s uncompromising spirit, the final edit of the film doesn’t quite do his work justice.
The truest biopic/fan service moment is the one that makes the entire film worth it. The final minutes of the film are a near exact replication of Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance. Brilliantly executed, the final performance of the film reaches incredible heights with its relevance to the source material. Picking and choosing its creative liberties to round out the story it is an ending nothing short of epic.
Unfortunately, an epic ending deserves a build up of equal proportion. That said, “Bohemian Rhapsody” does its best with everything it was given and at the end of the day, is nothing short of fun. When it should have ultimately been the story of a man coming to terms with not only himself, but also with what makes life worth the journey.
It takes more of a direct route to material that’s easier to digest. The lessons are still there, but they just get glossed over in a sweeping, stylish film that is 10 hours too short.
??? (3/5 Penguins)