Christ, I’ve been putting this one off for a while. The trailer gave me so much hope; every time it came on at the cinema before other movies, my excitement only increased. Then I found out about the allegations against Bryan Singer, and decided that I really wanted to avoid giving him my money for as long as possible, regardless of the quality of the movie. To be clear: Singer is allegedly a pedophile, and I am attempting to withdraw all support from him as I would with any other predator actively working in the industry. If anyone reading this is currently thinking ‘but Zoe, what about separating art from the artist?’, my response is simply that Singer has now made $50 million directly because of the film’s popularity – wishing that your monetary support of the art won’t assist the artist is pretty naive. But if you’re wondering whether I should separate high-quality art from a less than stellar artist, fear not – the debate about whether Bohemian Rhapsody is a good film or not ended as soon as I left the cinema.
The premise is straightforward: Bohemian Rhapsody charts Freddie Mercury’s meteoric rise to fame from the 70s to the 80s, focusing on his apparent creative genius alongside his dramatic personal life. But starting with his entrance onstage at the Live Aid concert prevents the film from truly telling a rags-to-riches story a la A Star Is Born, and the cinematography is constantly reinforcing what a legend Mercury has always been. Fair enough if this is the intention of the movie, but it removes all potential tension, as it never really feels like he’s going to fail – you may ultimately know with Ally and Jackson Maine that one will rise while the other falls, but at least there’s some doubt in getting there.
Honestly, most issues in Borhap (as the rabid fanbase refers to it) come down to the abysmally written script, which fails on the basic level of telling rather than showing. How do we demonstrate Freddie’s attraction to men? Have him look at a man walk through a bathroom door with ‘MEN’ written on! How do we establish the close bond between the band members? Have them say ‘we’re a family!’ over and over! But as lame as these elements are, nothing compares to how insidiously they decide to present Freddie’s sexuality. His coming out as bisexual is quickly shut down by his fiance – ‘you’re gay, Freddie’ – and it is assumed that the audience will side with her. Immediately after this moment begins his fall from grace, which is so closely associated with his gayness that the main villain of the film is his partner, and he frequently needs his heterosexual love interest to set him back on the path of morality.
The one thing that the film really nails is the casting – every actor in the band is an absolute dead ringer for the real-life band members in their younger days. This only translates somewhat to the performances however, as because of the aforementioned dreadful script, leading man Rami Malek is given very little to do. Try as he might, Freddie is allowed no interiority by any other aspect of the filmmaking, to the point where I came away from a biopic feeling like I actually knew less about the subject than when I started. Malek is by no means bad, but his performance is rarely able to go beyond an impression.
At points, I felt as though I was enjoying myself whilst watching Bohemian Rhapsody, but then I realised every moment that I felt this way was because a performance scene was happening, and I enjoy Queen’s music generally speaking. When the strongest element of your film is the source material you’ve chosen, you know that something’s gone wrong, and in the case of Singer’s failure here, the film stunk of wasted potential.