It’s tough to love a film and hate it too. But that just happens to be the case with Bohemian Rhapsody. The film is of course a train wreck, two directors and a muddled vision, best shown in the opening scene where they pick a song that’s far away from the scene’s essence, a serious offence in a film chronicling a band who were pioneers when it came to music videos. The film often feels tone deaf in the early scenes, promising scenes don’t get the necessary room to breathe. That does improve as the film goes on, most things do improve as the film goes on.
The film’s biggest sin however is just how bloody straight it is. This is Freddie Mercury for crying out loud, the Queen himself, as we know all know. I‘m not complaining the homosexuality isn’t shown, but rather how it‘s shown. Apart from a few brief scenes with his final fiancé, Jim, homosexuality is usually shown as a destructive force. Sure, Freddie did die from a sexually transmitted decease and living your life in hiding must have been destructive at times, particularly when the rest of that life is out in the open, all the socially accepted parts, that is. But there is something false about the balance the film strikes in that regard, here homosexuality is a sin, although a pardonable sin if you find a decent enough boyfriend.
But this is also a bloody good film. The band itself has real chemistry when they are working together, arguing or debating about music, something the film could use a lot more of. Freddie’s past as an immigrant and his complexes about his teeth are also interesting and the film thankfully allows itself to be a jukebox film, playing hit after hit and allowing the songs to be played in full, unlike so many similar movies that hardly ever play a full song. Which is fitting in a film about a band most famous for a song everybody believed to be too long to be a hit. This is certainly a Greatest Hits film, it could have used a few more obscure Queen songs, and also more creation myths about songs, like the ones we get about Bohemian Rhapsody and We Will Rock You.
The major reason to love the film though remains Rami Malek. He’s simply breathtaking as Freddie, capturing the performance and the pathos, the insecurities and the bottomless flamboyance. The lonely rock star, lost in his giant mansion. Yet the film doesn’t capture him, doesn’t feel where the real sorrow stems from and ends up betraying the artist Malek honours so brilliantly.
The film is about the sorrow of a man who strayed from the righteous path, not the sorrow of a man who had to fight for his right to be himself during times when that was far from accepted. And that feels like a betrayal.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson