A while back, Sacha Baron Cohen, mostly known to moviegoers as Borat, was saying he ended up not starring as Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of the rock band Queen, in a movie about Queen, and one of the creative differences Mr. Baron Cohen had with some of the producers of the film (a couple of the guys from Queen) was that the movie was going to be as much about the band Queen as much as it was going to be about Queen’s lead singer, and who the hell is going to see a movie where the main character dies halfway through the flick, in Mercury’s case at the age of 45, owing to complications from AIDS.
Well, somebody must have listened to some of what Mr. Baron Borat was saying, because the version of Bohemian Rhapsody that made it to the screen is mostly about Freddie Mercury. It’s a nice enough movie, maybe a little too nice, a little too smoothed-over, and the other guys in the band are there, and we get to see them innovate and create iconic Top 40 Album Oriented Rock radio hits, but somebody should have maybe let Baron Sacha direct this thing, and explore his interest in the rococo extremes of 1970s rock megastardom. Instead, the story is told for maximum agreeability by Bryan Singer, who directed a bunch of X-Men movies and that movie where Tom Cruise tried to kill Hitler. Well, Bryan Singer mostly directed this movie, probably, but then Mr. Singer got fired and replaced by Dexter Fletcher because it’s complicated, and at this point Mr. Singer’s got other things to answer for, but he got the Director’s Guild credit for the movie, and so let’s say for the sake of argument he directed the giant 1985 Wembley Stadium Live Aid concert scene, which powerfully combines suspense about whether Mercury can perform with the spectacle of 70,000 people waiting for him, but anyway, enough about Bryan Singer.
More about Rami Malek from cable television’s Mr. Robot, though, who carries this movie with his big eyes and bigger Freddie Mercury stunt teeth (dude had a prodigious set of choppers), and is completely charming and magnetic, like a fucking rock star. We decided going in to this screening we would care about who was singing the words coming out of Mr. Malek/Mercury’s mouth as much as we would care about who was speaking the dialogue, by which we mean we accepted the entirety of the performance as a whole. He’s not really Freddie Mercury, you know, but an incredible simulation.
Speaking of British teeth, a mostly unrecognizable-so-as-not-to-suck-us-out-of-the-movie Mike Myers has an appearance, we think, simply to score one of the most bullshit inside-joke callbacks ever. Going even further off-topic, there are cats in this movie; Freddie Mercury had pet cats. If you pay to go sit in an auditorium and see this movie with other adults who also paid money to see this movie, please do not go “Awww” when you see a goddamn house cat on the screen, seriously.
This film is sort of a music-appreciation service for the back catalog of Queen, which might help sell a few more albums, so that makes sense as far as any motivations for the band, you know, beyond art. It provides a helpful tutorial on how “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the song, is not just incredibly long when you’re listening to it but was also an intensive work of labor in the studio. There’s a lesson here about artistry and commerce here, too, maybe, that the director (or directors) might have paid more attention to: Queen achieved its stratospheric, stadium-singalong levels of mass appeal by pursuing its own diverse and eccentric interests. The movie, meanwhile, aims for mass appeal by appealing to what the masses expect.
That leaves the artistic accomplishment up to the movie’s human element, via the central performance. The film acknowledges, but treads lightly on, the details of Mr. Mercury’s sex-and-drugs lifestyle of furious dissipation and initially closeted homosexuality, but we are witness to important emotional aspects of his personal relationships, and so Mr. Malek is able to show us a funny, formidable, flawed man, who is larger than life, and who, after spending time with him in this movie, you might find you miss, terribly.