2 (out of 4)
After eight tumultuous years in production, the arrival of Bohemian Rhapsody is hardly the momentous occasion for the music biopic genre one might expect from transcribing the extravagant life of Freddie Mercury to the screen. Succeeding only in staging the influential British rock band's most recognizable tracks with lifelike stand-ins and lively camerawork, the film is little more than a shot of nostalgia for baby boomers and Queen 101 for young punters.
Bohemian Rhapsody is manufactured to pander to those with scarcely an iota of familiarity with pop culture, which is to say anyone. But for music savants craving some scrutiny regarding Mercury's distinctive genius (as the film isn't really concerned with Queen at large), the pang of paucity will be poignant due to the paltry, bullet-pointed and undeveloped scripting. Writer Anthony McCarten's screenplay is dominantly comprised of obvious references and historical simplifications – Queen's speedy rise to international domination from 1970 to 1985 is awkwardly crammed into a three-act script simulator. McCarten is contented to appeal to plebeian emotions and convert facts to fantasy, not unlike his other feathery and shamelessly sentimental English biopics The Theory of Everything and Darkest Hour.
However, the sloppy editing and shoestring narrative impetus can be chiefly blamed on Bryan Singer, who was fired as director late last year after rumors of showing up late to work and clashing with the film crew, especially lead Rami Malek. Singer's name has already been clouded by multiple accusations of child sexual abuse but he deserves derision for taking full credit for two-thirds the filmmaking labor and exhibiting less than half the stylistic commitment of even his worst X-Men film. Replacement director Dexter Fletcher has not been awarded recognition as per the rules of the Directors Guild of America.
Malek on the other hand is so much better than anyone dearly wishing for the Sacha Baron Cohen version could have hoped for. His prosthetic British chompers are downright distracting in the first act but by the time the clean cut and mustache are in play, Malek operates smoothly as a convincing imitator of Mercury’s signature theatrical flamboyance. His acting alone, while exaggerated even for Mercury, salvages the film altogether. The supporting cast is also admirable – Gwilym Lee as lead guitarist Brian May, Ben Hardy as drummer Roger Taylor and Joseph Modello as bassist John Deacon are all just as plausible aside Malek's extraordinary performance. The real life Taylor and May were consulted during production and were the most outspoken against Cohen's casting. Their input seems negligible though, as Bohemian Rhapsody's narrative abbreviates the band's history and the muffled PG-13 rating eschews the reality of rock and roll – sex, drugs and foul mouths.
Failing to live up to the traditional standards of Straight Outta Compton, Get On Up and Walk the Line or even make an attempt at the experimental, poetic contemplation of I'm Not There or Love & Mercy, Bohemian Rhapsody is a safe and featureless portrait of a fearless and unforgettable performer. Still, the swimmingly climactic rendition of Queen's celebrated Live Aid concert and Malek's soulful caricature save the film from total tedium – easy come, easy go.
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