Maybe it was the PG 13 rating that stifled a lot of the rock opulence I expected from one of music’s most flamboyant and thrilling artists. Maybe it was the casting change and change in director. Maybe the film just wasn’t able to keep up with the shining talents of the star, Rami Malek. Maybe a combination of it all kept this biopic from reaching its full potential, but Bohemian Rhapsody falls somewhere short of the great movie it could have been.
Don’t get me wrong, Bohemian Rhapsody is a good movie. However, elements in the storytelling just didn’t seem to fall into place to elevate it beyond good. I’ll start with the pacing. The movie opens to a young Freddie Mercury (then going by his birth name Farrokh Bulsara) living at home. You get sliver of family dynamics that sort of comes back later in the film, but only in a cursory way. Freddie joins a band and as we wait to witness some of the struggle and tribulations of a band getting on its feet, they are suddenly a success. I know there’s a lot to pack into a two hour time frame, but there’s a sense that the audience is robbed of some of the bands early stages.
This feeling of being left out of the loop continues a bit later as the band tours. Rather than getting the feel for road life with them, or seeing their star rise in different regions of the world, the audience gets a brief montage of city names flashing in front of some stitched together performances. It’s all very rushed and has a sort of claustrophobic feel to it.
The other sense you get is that it’s fairly sanitised. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t address issues of sexuality, substance use or emotional dynamics. It does, and doesn’t shy away from some of the hedonism of Mercury’s lifestyle. But even still, it seems…… glossed over. Again, perhaps to achieve that PG-13 rating.
On the positive side, Bohemian Rhapsody is a great redemptive story. Malek plays Mercury wonderfully. Once you accept the prosthetic teeth that can throw you, early on, his portrayal of the dynamic frontman is powerful. You feel for Mercury throughout and Malek’s performance strengthens increasingly as the movie progresses. You feel his confidence build as the band coalesces. You feel his confusion with his relationship to his fiance before coming out. You get a profound sense of his loneliness when the band breaks up and he is adrift. Malek allows you to emotionally tie yourself to the character and feel his triumphs and heartbreaks along with him.
The supporting cast, from bandmates, to lawyers, to hangers ons and an almost unrecognizable Mike Meyers as a music executive are all great in this film. The chemistry between them all is flawless and it lifts the movie out of the doldrums of its pacing. I do wish I had gotten a bit more out of Bohemian Rhapsody, but all in all it was a good movie propelled by great performances that will leave audiences wishing they had more time with Freddie and his genius.