Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

In it’s own limited way, the biopic of the British band Queen is as narratively compromised as the group’s creative output was musically compromised. Leader Freddie Mercury was always open about how his approach to rock was not doctrinnaire; that while he loved rock music and what it had undergone in the post-Beatles world of English pop, he loved theatricality even more, and so many of Queen’s best-loved songs combine prog-rock technique with Broadway glitz, and the movie honors this legacy by avoiding anything that smacks of subtlety or even verisimilitude. When people say that Rami Malek’s impersonation of Mercury is the best thing about the movie, what they’re saying is that the actor falls for Mercury’s preternatural need to show off. Even in the expository passages, showing how Mercury overcame his immigrant insecurities, his self- esteem problems, and, eventually, his hesitancy to acknowledge his homosexuality, you almost expect him to break into song in a bid to make these scenes even more emotionally fraught. Queen fans will love it, and Queen skeptics still won’t get it for the same reason.

As such, the script by Anthony McCarten sidesteps its narrative holes with its feet in big, clunky platform shoes. We go from Mercury shuttling luggage at Heathrow to muscling his way into a working band that has just lost its lead singer to the vicissitudes of ambition. The joke here is that no one is as ambitious as Freddie Mercury, and before you can say “Galileo” they’ve not only snagged a recording contract with a big company but are busting the balls of their producer and A&R guy, who, as the saying goes, “just wants the next hit single.” McCarten isn’t really interested in Mercury’s vision or even his creative process, because that would only interfere with the film’s relentless forward motion. Talk about a “meteoric rise” to fame.

What McCarten does get right is the group dynamic. This really is a biopic of a band, and when Mercury, two-thirds of the way through, launches an unwise solo career during a particularly difficult point in his personal life, you understand exactly why he flounders creatively. Director Bryan Singer (or whoever, since he was famously dismissed near the film’s completion) doesn’t have much patience with this part, settling for the usual drugs-and-sexual-excess montages to get him through it, thus gliding rather conveniently through Mercury’s realization of his sexual desires and how they upended his life. But once the band comes back into that life they not only save his career and his peace-of-mind with an exceedingly well received set at Live Aid—and one that Singer-or-whoever pulls off with the perfect measure of theatrical bombast—but the movie as a whole. I still don’t particularly care for Queen’s music, but the ending to Bohemian Rhapsody at last makes me understand why so many people do.

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Picadilly (050-6861-3011), Cinema Sunshine Ikebukuro (03-3982-6388).

Bohemian Rhapsody home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2018 Twentieth Century Fox

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