The last time I had the pleasure of watching Rami Malek perform, he was shrinking away into the black hoodie characteristic of socially inept recluse Elliot Alderson — a star-making role for Malek, but not anything close to rock-legend material. When the news broke that everyone’s favourite vigilante hacker was about to be transformed into Queen’s Freddie Mercury for Bohemian Rhapsody, interest piqued fast. With Mr. Robot to his name, Malek had already proven himself an actor worthy of an Emmy award winning starring role, but portraying an iconic figure is a lot to take on. Yet, even in the smallest of movements and facial expressions, even when given dialogue that makes Freddie Mercury feel more like a character than a real person, Malek manages to sell it. He’s convincing in every aspect of his larger-than-life performance and it’s all around fun to watch. The film is hinged on what Malek does with the character, and he’s officially proven his versatility and strength as an actor by delivering more than expected for Bohemian Rhapsody – his performance is the film’s entire saving grace. For a film made to celebrate such a unique stage performer and express an underlying message of how it’s okay to be different, Bohemian Rhapsody is painfully generic.
The film offers an unoriginal look at the life and times of Freddie Mercury that, unfortunately, hardly even glaces at the rest of the band and other key figures, all of whom seem to melt into the background. It’s as if the creators of this film put it together by picking a handful of key points from Mercury’s Wikipedia page with only the PG-13 rating they wanted to maintain in mind. According to this movie, Queen’s rise to fame was high point after high point. While there were dark moments throughout Bohemian Rhapsody, they were glossed over and resolved rather quickly and effortlessly.
More than a biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody is an easy-to-swallow and therefore forgettable take on Mercury’s story. Just before the final concert that punctuates two hours of cookie cutter storytelling, Freddie announces to his bandmates he’s been diagnosed with AIDS. In a bizarrely feel-good, almost Disney-esque depiction of an AIDS diagnosis, the bandmates simply hug it out and use the tragedy as encouragement to give the best performance of their lives. At least it would somewhat fit into the narrative Bohemian Rhapsody is attempting to push if the real life Freddie Mercury’s diagnosis hadn’t happened years after the events of the film, with him telling his bandmates even further the down the line.
At the very least, this all builds up to what I would think to be the perfect conclusion to a film paying tribute to Freddie Mercury – a recreation of Queen’s iconic performance at the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert in London. This scene feels far longer than it actually is – while I’d assumed from the rest of the film that Bohemian Rhapsody was something I wouldn’t watch again, once it had finished I was left immediately wanting to go back to the beginning of the Live Aid scene. It’s so immersive and enjoyable to watch, it breezed by quick. The scene offers an ambitious amount of extras singing along to a selection of six of Queen’s most famous songs and Rami Malek hitting all the right notes in his magnetic and lively depiction of Mercury’s on-stage persona. This all adds up to an experience that absorbs you, as though you’re there excitedly awaiting the cue to stomp and clap along to “We Will Rock You”.
Bohemian Rhapsody is built on its upbeat undertone and continuous winks beyond the fourth wall (“mark these words — no one will ever play Queen,” said EMI executive Ray Foster (played by Mike Myers), many scenes before we see him dejectedly sitting at his desk watching their Live Aid performance) In theory, these are great and heartfelt ways to pay tribute to Freddie Mercury’s legacy, but, outside of Malek’s performance, Bohemian Rhapsody feels lifeless, one-note and devoid of a unique style (the director had to be swapped out during production and you can tell). At least the electrifying finale concert might be enough to warm the heart of the Queen fan in us all – if only the rest of the film followed suit.