Editor’s note: Please welcome our new writer, Dustin Buursma, to Get Reel Movies! This is the first of many reviews from Dustin for the site. — JW, Managing Editor
Early rumours from advanced screenings of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY had coloured my expectations: Freddie Mercury’s queerness had been downplayed in favour of a bigger biopic of the band to the point where Freddie’s death isn’t even represented. Turns out? These are flagrant alarmist complaints that ignore the film’s context. But don’t worry! There are plenty of reasons to wag fingers at the film.
Oh, Freddie. Oh, Rami Malek. When I went into the theatre, I didn’t say, “Tonight, I’m gonna have myself a real good time,” but my mind was open. The week prior, I had theatre patrons buying tickets for RHAPSODY rave about Freddie Mercury and rave about Queen. They would take the time to approach me at the box office after the credits rolled just to rave about it. They would look in my relatively young eyes as if to say, “You don’t even know, you don’t even know” – ignorant of the possibility, and the fact, that I grew up with classic rock. Queen was as much my touchstone as anyone else’s. I don’t think we have seen another male performer on par with Freddie. And I get it, guys: you were young then, Queen is “yours.” I had one woman tell me she was at the Live Aid concert that serves as the film’s climax.
But maybe the fact that it’s Queen’s first biopic is clouding some judgment? It’s hard to blame folks. Just like how Queen rested on Mercury’s shoulders, the film rests on Rami Malek’s shoulders. He’s a shoo-in for a deserved Oscar nomination, and I wouldn’t even be upset if he won. This is a career-defining performance and he’s utterly convincing in every frame. And the film was wisely marketed; released in IMAX with the knob cranked past eleven; I could hear “We Will Rock You” echo into the hall with the theatre doors closed. The film relishes in the music, as it ought to, often playing songs to their completion.
But BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY might be the worst screenplay I have been subjected to all year. All tensions are ham-fisted and they feel artificial and hollow. Freddie and his dad can’t get along! There’s no deeper thread to that relationship, just arguments. Freddie wants to take a massive pay-check to cut a solo album, leaving the Queen bandmates to wait in the wings. That monster! Who would accept money to do what they love? I’m certain none of the Queen bandmates wouldn’t have taken such an offer if, you know, one had magically dropped in their lap.
The film reads like it was made for TV. Mike Myers might as well be staring into the camera when he says, “NO ONE WILL LISTEN TO BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY.” Ha ha ha, because it’s Mike Myers! WAYNE’S WORLD! Get it? Freddie’s dad tells Freddie he’ll amount to nothing. Cue chortles from the audience because we all know what happens. Even Freddie’s strained and unique relationship with Mary Austin; it gets so close to tangible emotion, but it’s still written too distantly, we can’t get in either character’s head enough. The film’s emotional core is stilted.
But people are raving anyway. They’re becoming emotionally invested anyway. And this is the problem when you tackle subject matter that’s both real, ubiquitous, and tragic: people enter the theatre with pre-made connections. So, as long as the basic beats are strummed, so too are their heartstrings. There are statues of this man around the world. You think people care if the screenplay spoon-feeds them? No. We want the band, we want the music, we want the basic history (and you can twist it how you like, by the way), and we’re yours. You will, you will rock us.
Rami Malek is a treasure and see this for him. But please ask more of screenplays, of film in general. It deserves better, and so do you, and so does Freddie Mercury’s legacy.