Movie Review: “Bohemian Rhapsody” – By the Numbers

Written by Matt Butler December 13, 2018

I wish I could feel more enraged about this movie. The truth is, I’m just too accepting of the reality that movies are not about reality. They’re about an idea, a message that resonates with an audience that generates an emotion. The message I get from Bohemian Rhapsody is “Queen is awesome”. It’s a true message, one everyone can agree with, but it’s a message we already know. It’s why this movie was made. But what else is there? A compelling story? No. An accurate chronicling of Queen and Freddie Mercury’s life? No. So what is it?

Bohemian Rhapsody is a two and a half hour music video packed with misinformation, half-truths, and flat-out lies. It coasts on the current of a killer soundtrack and a stunning leading man. With how successful this movie’s been, it’s a shame we couldn’t get something even an inch closer to the truth.

“Roger, there’s only room in this band for one hysterical queen.”

Really though, even if it does take more than a few artistic liberties, I can excuse dramatic license if it makes the film more engaging. A big part of why I love Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs biopic is the script. It’s sharp, concise and witty as hell. Is it true to life? No. It speaks to who Steve Jobs was, but it doesn’t speak his own words. This tells you how blurry the line is between fact and fiction in biopics. It’s enough to make you ask, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

So yes, if the artistry is there, I’ll give it the license. But there’s just not much artistry in this film. It’s all the dumb music biopic tropes we’ve seen before. Guy lives in hard times, guy joins band, band becomes successful, relationship drama, band breaks up, band gets back together, band performs at big event. There, I just gave you the plot of Bohemian Rhapsody, and just about every other music biopic under the sun.

“Ready, Freddie?”

Still, what everyone’s saying about Rami Malek is true. He is a phenomenal Freddie Mercury. His mannerisms, his flagrant personality, he even looks the part to a tee. He’s a pretty unlikeable prick, but Malek commits to it, and adds just enough emotional nuance to keep him from being insufferable. I suppose I’m more a fan of his performance than the actual character. The movie also seems far more taken with Freddie’s performance abilities than his depth as a human being.

Everyone else keeps their parts pretty standard. This is no criticism of the acting, which is all fine and serviceable, but it does come down to a screenplay full of cliched dialogue and story beats. It’s not an interesting story for the actors to read, so it’s not an interesting film for the audience to see. But why does it have to be so uninteresting anyway?

“I’m not going to be anybody’s victim, AIDS poster boy or cautionary tale.”

Bohemian Rhapsody is less a history lesson on Queen and more of a collage of moments rearranged into a simple narrative. Bits and pieces from different points of Queen’s history are combined and truncated into one moment to bolster the band’s mythical status. I suppose the logic at play here is that if the film follows that biopic formula, the audience will be familiar enough with it to accept it, if not as truth, then as a digestible story about one of their favourite bands. We wouldn’t want to bore them with facts, those are complicated and untheatrical.

But the lengths Bohemian Rhapsody goes to wash over history – the history of its own band and leading man – exposes a deeply rooted cynicism. It’s a belief that the only thing people need out of a Queen biopic is a good lead and fantastic music sequences. To be fair, Bohemian Rhapsody has both. The Live Aid sequence that closes the film is kind of amazing. It’s a masterclass in sound-editing and lip-syncing. The tech is there, the music is there, but that’s not enough. People know Queen, they know their history. They are going to notice all of these inaccuracies, and they will post all of these inaccuracies on the movie’s Wikipedia page for normies like myself. Did the people who made this movie forget what the internet is?

“The human condition requires a bit of anesthesia.”

If you like Queen, just listen to their Greatest Hits album for the 50th time. If you want to see Rami’s fantastic Freddie Mercury impression, just wait a few months for the Live Aid sequence to show up on Youtube. It’s a fun piece of filmmaking, but it’s not worth over two hours of boredom. If I may be so on the nose, then I’d say that Bohemian Rhapsody fails to capture the real life, and it’s too dull to be much of a fantasy.

My Rating: 4/10


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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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