Bohemian Rhapsody: A Superficial “Silhouette-o” of a Man
by Sandra Olmsted
Awash in the band’s biggest hits, director Bryan Singer’s much-awaited biopic of Queen’s frontman Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek in an outstanding, Oscar-nod worthy performance) has finally hit the big screen to very mixed reviews. Whether, according to critics, a delightful, genre-bending rock biopic or a shallow, under-developed pseudo portrait, the opening weekend box office proved that the audiences are hungry for anything Queen. Of course, their palates have been primed over the past year with everything Queen from symphony concerts to the band’s hits getting endless radio play. As a biopic of Freddie Mercury, the film has its limitation.
Bohemian Rhapsody only hints at what Mercury may have struggled with to balance his own lifestyle and his difficult relationship with his parents, especially his father who exhorts his only son to follow the “Three Good Things” of their Zoroastrian faith. In “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Mercury nods to his father’s advice of “good thoughts, good words, good deeds” as stressed in the Avesta, the religion’s sacred text. Naming the film after his very popular song emphasizes not only Queen’s success but Mercury’s relationship to his family and his faith, despite its negative view of homosexuality.
Director Singer only superficially succeeds at balancing Mercury’s family dynamic, his reinventions of himself, his homosexuality, and his AIDS with a history of this very popular band because Singer too delicately, perhaps too timidly, chooses an emphasis for the film. The band’s guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) function as supporting characters to Mercury’s search for the person he “was always meant to be.” Even Mercury’s complex relationship with “soulmate” Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) gets whitewashed with a happy paintbrush. Mercury contracting AIDS and Queen playing the Live Aid benefit concert in 1985 is not emphasized for the pivotal role it played in promoting AIDS research. While the film only hints in delicate cinematic terms at Mercury’s re-establishing a relationship with his parents and ends before Mercury’s death from AIDS, Mercury aka Farrokh Bulsara did return to his religion in death by having a traditional Zoroastrian’s funeral.
Much as Freddie Mercury often seemed to be enacting a parody of his own search for identity, Bohemian Rhapsody struggles to get past Mercury’s hyper theatricalism while searching for the essence of the man, which is quite the opposite of the rock biopic Ray. Fortunately, the film delivers details of the man and the band that some fans, new and old, will find at least interesting even though it does not reach the revealing drama of Walk the Line or The Doors, despite Mercury’s self-generated drama.
lthough, fortunately, the compelling use of Queen’s music engages the audience, director Singer never quite gets past a superficial, “little silhouette-o” of the man himself. To recommend it, Bohemian Rhapsody does set the stage for fans to learn more about Freddie Mercury and Queen and does feature Malek’s performance, which is worth the price of admission itself. Wisely rated only PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language and running 134 minutes, Bohemian Rhapsody, a Twentieth Century Fox release, is in theaters now.