Bohemian Rhapsody biopic lacks substance

Photo courtesy of Flickr   Rami Malek plays the iconic Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Rami Malek plays the iconic Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”


“Bohemian Rhapsody,” directed by Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) is a biopic about Freddie Mercury, iconic frontman of the band Queen. The movie begins with Queen’s famous Live Aid charity concert of 1985, which catapulted the group into stardom and cemented their place in rock and roll history.

The movie then takes viewers back to the beginning of Mercury’s journey; in 1970, he was Farrokh Bulsara, a Parsi-Indian living in the suburbs of London and sneaking out of his home to listen to college bands. Early in the film Mercury, played by Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”), approaches two band members, Roger Taylor and Brian May (played by Ben Hardy and Gwilym Lee, respectively), belts out some high notes, and Queen is born. Soon, the band is traveling for live shows, has an album deal, a manager has appeared seemingly out of thin air and in the very next frame, the names of cities pop up to show us their global domination tour. Was it really that easy? Did Queen become Queen in five minutes? Probably not, but the film oversimplifies and depicts everything falling into place without a hitch, the group propelled to their initial fame by sheer talent alone.

The movie establishes itself as superficial and somewhat forgettable in its first 15 minutes. It lends the same surface treatment to Mercury’s complicated background and his immigrant family as it does to the formation of the band itself. Malek’s Mercury comes off as callous and self-centered; the movie fails to really explore Mercury’s discomfort with his immigrant backround or tense relationship with his father. Interactions between the two seem regurgitated from countless other rockstar biopics, where a son demands his freedom and a conservative father bemoans his child’s artistic pursuits. His familial complications and early musical aspirations, like everything else, offer no insight into the rockstar’s psyche and are riddled with predictability and un-imaginativeness.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t about nuance or the complexity of the singer. It doesn’t bother with the questions of who Freddie Mercury really was or how he was able to create the legendary Queen. It is only interested in the surface-level telling of a series of events, failing to explore Mercury’s psychology, which proves for an exhausting and tedious viewing experience.

Malek’s dazzling performance proves to be the film’s saving grace. He is committed to replicating Mercury as accurately as he possibly can. It is a praiseworthy effort — but unfortunately is almost drowned in the dull and tiresome storyline. Another winning quality, of course, is the score: entirely Queen songs, which provide a much-needed respite from the languorous narrative.

The most glaring of missteps in the film is that it neglects to show a major aspect of Freddie Mercury’s career: his sexuality and how it shaped his life. In the film, Mercury’s devastating diagnosis is treated as merely an afterthought and, like other parts, is lacking in substance. There is no development of Mercury as a bisexual character, making the scene where he reveals his AIDS diagnosis to his bandmates appear sudden and unsubstantial. It is a glaring omission for the movie to erase Mercury’s struggle with the disease that led to his death, which shocked the world. The movie’s exploration of Mercury and his sexuality, his need for autonomy — both personal and creative — and his pursuit of love and family, are all thin and hollow. There is no psychological depth or insight into how sexuality guided not only the man but the music. On a deeper level, the film has no interest in gay politics or the sexual liberation movement of the ’70s, both of which surely influenced Queen’s music.

What should have been a window into Mercury’s personal life is merely a reminder that a band like Queen existed. To those truly invested in Queen, staying home and listening to their albums would probably prove more a more rewarding experience than watching the film. Queen’s reputation in music is a stupendous phenomenon which defines popular culture even today. It is tragic to watch this movie, which is completely strung with cliched dialogue and conflict and feels inauthentic to anyone who knows anything about Mercury or the band. The film is a lost opportunity to truly examine the enigma that defined the music and culture of a generation. It is a major disservice to Queen, to Mercury and their fans.