‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ buckles, but does not break under pressure

By Shane Soderland

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Director Bryan Singer resurrects singer Freddie Mercury in the 2018 biopic film “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The film chronicles Mercury and his band Queen’s rise to prominence and iconization.

Rami Malek gives an Oscar caliber performance as the sensational rock star struggling with vice and indulgence capturing his mannerisms, flare, and humanity above all else. The film never goes out of its way to characterize Mercury as an omnipotent figure, which is commendable, but it never goes deep enough to match Malek’s performance.

Singer gave tight direction to cover the entirety of Mercury’s career, but the overall structure was bothersome. The film tells its story in a very traditional and formulaic way, which doesn’t suit the inventive and experimental nature of Queen.

At one point, dialogue shared between Brian May’s character and a production executive criticizes formula in music. This interaction almost feels ironic, given how conventional the film’s direction is.

Mercury’s life is examined well, but it would have benefited from more abstract storytelling. An interesting perspective would have been a nonlinear approach, with scenes from various times in his career sporadic throughout.

Similarly, a perspective such as the miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” where direction is taken by expanding multiple character’s viewpoints would have worked. In a story with a vast range of material, the film would have benefited from this format, especially considering Malek’s success on the show “Mr. Robot.”

Yes, “Bohemian Rhapsody” plays like a biopic you’ve seen a hundred times before — it’s even been parodied in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”

The film covers Mercury’s career in a seemingly impossible two and a half hour run time. Story threads were cut down, ignored, or glossed over for the film to work.

There are enough enjoyable aspects to make the film both watchable and endearing.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” finds ways for audience members to become invested in its larger-than-life focus, counterbalancing its duller aspects with vibrant cinematography, unique editing techniques, and a good cast with believable chemistry.

Malek’s transcendental performance as Mercury, the electric soundtrack, and the dramatic elements are all strong components.

The movie struggles, however, to authentically portray the lives of 1970’s rock stars — especially, a group as outlandish as Queen. Mercury is portrayed as a flawed and indulgent diva, while his band mates are unchanging figures with strong moral authority.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” made a conscious choice to gloss over the seedier aspects of Mercury’s life, yet it does not take away from the film’s focus — Queen and their music. The film did not need exploitative debauchery to succeed, but a single f-bomb would have been permissible.

Most disappointingly, the film’s message about Mercury’s sexuality is muddled. With the exception of the closing moments of the film, Mercury’s homosexuality is portrayed as raucous and destructive throughout. However, the characters treat his orientation and eccentricities with familial tenderness, which was poignant to see.

Historical inaccuracies, exaggerations, and Meta-references are abundant in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but do not detract from its entertainment value or message about family and teamwork. This film is a flawed take on a legend, but as a concert film it will rock you.

Contact Shane Soderland at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu