Friday, November 2, 2018


The way Bohemian Rhapsody tells its story is such an obvious mistake you wonder why they tried it this way. I guess you could say the same for director Bryan Singer’s behind the scenes behavior, which included alleged absenteeism and tantrums that resulted in a firing mere weeks before the film wrapped. (Eddie the Eagle's Dexter Fletcher finished the shoot, though his contributions fit right in Singer's glossily hollow approach by the looks of it.) Regardless, the movie hardly reflects that turmoil, or even the turmoil of its subject: iconic rock band Queen. Sure there are drugs and sex mixed in with the rock and roll, but somehow the rock biopic has ended up one of our most prudish sub-genres, as this PG-13 affair scripted by Darkest Hour’s Anthony McCarten and Frost/Nixon’s Peter Morgan elides most of its band’s bad behavior and scolds the rest. It hardly seems fun, and only fleetingly interesting, to be a rock star, even before frontman Freddie Mercury hits rock bottom. The telling follows a formula so tired it was already a dusty old cliche by the time Walk Hard spoofed it eleven years ago. It starts with Mercury amped up for the band’s memorable Live Aid performance near the end of his life before flashing back to the group’s origins. Along the road to success we see: the early scenes in which the guys stare into the middle distance as if they know they’re etching quotes for a future re-enactment; arguments with mangers and record execs, complete with the suit who says what will be their biggest hit won't be; tour bus montages and concert snippets with city names and headlines floating toward the camera; the twinkle of inspiration as classic songs emerge basically fully formed in jam sessions. We’ve seen it all before. The only difference is Queen, and the token amount of time spent with Mercury's immigrant background. The production design and costume work is spot on. The sound design bumps and bops. The performances — especially Rami Malek's Mercury, toothy grin and lithe bulging bravado, selling the man’s sexuality in ways the movie barely does — are top notch impersonations. When they’re singing in concert there’s a fun kick. The detailed climactic Live Aid recreation is almost worth the price of admission. Shame, then, that the breathlessly stale greatest-hits behind-the-music connective tissue barely digs into characters and never textures the world with more than surface color as it rushes through the highs and lows. It fills its scenes with people who stand around speaking the subtext out loud in between fun music. If it wasn’t so deathly dull half the time it’d be pretty good.

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