Featuring electrifying musical numbers and a powerful performance by its lead, Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” may not be groundbreaking, but it sure is entertaining.
Unlike its subject, “Bohemian Rhapsody” does not break any barriers with its structure. It is a fairly standard biopic featuring the highs and lows present in any rock-and-roll-band movie.
Occasionally, the need to make a familiar and rewarding plot gets in the way of authenticity. For example, their Live Aid performance was not a reunion – Queen never split up – nor did Mercury yet know of his HIV-positive status at the time of the performance, but it works well as a redemptive finale to a film.
A more serious criticism of the film is the approach that “Bohemian Rhapsody” takes to Freddie Mercury’s sexuality and his status as an HIV-positive individual.
There has been plenty of debate as to whether Mercury was a gay or bisexual man, but “Bohemian Rhapsody” stumbles regardless in addressing it. Mary Austin’s (Lucy Boynton) pitying assertion “No, Freddie, you’re gay,” when Mercury tries to come out to her as bisexual is perhaps emblematic of a time when LGBT+ identities were less understood, but it is still a distressing echo of what many bisexual individuals deal with (“you’re just confused, trying to convince yourself you’re halfway straight”).
But regardless of whether Freddie was gay or bisexual, another person dismissively claiming they know someone’s sexuality better than the person themselves is frustrating to anyone.
Additionally, the framing “Bohemian Rhapsody” uses with Mercury’s HIV diagnosis comes off as almost moralizing at times: another tragic consequence of the musician’s hubris and lifestyle, which the film frames as what breaks Queen apart.
The film’s biggest strength, however, is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. Malek perfectly channels Mercury’s energy and soul.
For all the issues that “Bohemian Rhapsody” has with its structure, its musical numbers more than make up the slack.
Malek is magnetic as Mercury. The actor studied Mercury’s performances for months to get Mercury’s mannerisms down and it really shows in these sequences.
Backed up with excellent costume design and the clunky aesthetic of 1980s technology, the film is visually sumptuous.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” could have chosen to extend itself further into Mercury’s life. It could have taken us through Mercury’s decline into illness and his death at the hands of AIDs.
However, “Bohemian Rhapsody” chooses not to. Some might see this is a flaw on the part of the film: a dishonesty to an important aspect of Mercury’s life and identity. However, I appreciate “Bohemian Rhapsody” choosing to end Mercury’s story on a triumph rather than feeding into the film industry’s insatiable appetite for queer pain.
I think Mercury himself would rather have been defined by what he made and what gave him joy – his music – rather than his pain.
The Live Aid 1985 finale of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a nearly complete recreation of Queen’s live show and is one of the most affecting finales to come out of a biographical piece in a long while. Malek’s Mercury sings as if it very well may be his last time, and you believe it.
In the end, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is safe and conventional in its telling of the story of Freddie Mercury’s life, but it glows where it matters: in recreating his relentless charisma and immortal music.