2018 | rated PG-13 | starring Rami Malek, Aidan Gillen, Joseph Mazello | directed (sort of) by Bryan Singer | 2 hrs 15 mins |

{Spoiler Warning (but for true events)}

With a good story, any genre can produce a good movie, however, personally, I always find it an uphill battle contending with the latest musical bio-pic. It’s one thing to make a biography of someone’s life, stick to the true events and let the importance of the story create the impression that the movie itself is important. The musical bio-pic is a step deeper into a subgenre that conforms so rigidly to formula that it is suffocating. It goes like this: The band forms, the band gets discovered, they deal with the record executives’ hesitations because their stuff is too different and they don’t want to sell out, they get radio airplay, they become a hit, cue montage of the song rising up the charts and the band playing to sold out crowds, fame threatens to tear them apart (band breaks up, lead gets hooked on drugs/arrogance), band gets back together for one final performance.

Bohemian Rhapsody is actually worse than a movie that adheres to that formula. In the process of canonizing Queen as musical Gods it tosses out any semblance of story, motivation or adversity to make what amounts in large sections to a deeply cheesy, unintentionally funny concert film that offers nothing beyond what you could get listening to a Queen album or watching a Queen performance. It moves in and out of the inner turmoil afflicting lead singer Freddie Mercury with just the faintest touch.

A bio-pic about Queen that has been bouncing around Hollywood for decades, the film started as the story of the group with Sacha Baron Cohen attached to play Freddie Mercury as a player in the overall Queen story. But Mercury is the marquee draw here so Cohen drops out, the movie is reshaped around Mercury and director Bryan Singer ends up stomping off the set with his own issues forcing the film to be completed by Dexter Fletcher. The final product swings the other way, becoming entirely about the genius of Freddie Mercury, but the tone is a weird hybrid of total worship and an archaically standoffish attitude toward his sexuality. It isn’t that the film is “straight-washed” (as the self-righteous complaint squad of so-called reviewers would say), as every other montage features Mercury following a man into the men’s room, but it is whittled down for PG-13 mass market consumption, revising the events of his life to give weight to a climax that otherwise has none (we’ll get to that). The tone swings wildly from Oscar-bait seriousness to SNL sketch cartoony.

If you took the classic story structure graph used by the musical bio-pic that starts with an inciting incident and a rising action and applied it to Bohemian Rhapsody, the graph would just be a straight line at the top with a brief dip for the band’s break-up-to-make-up moment (where Mercury briefly strikes out on his solo career). Where another bio-pic would show the procedural ins-and-outs of how the band was formed, how their songs were inspired and how they worked on them (scratching out lyrics and re-writing), much of Rhapsody shows Queen simply being geniuses, sitting down to the piano or strumming the guitar and having riffs and lyrics for¬†Bohemian Rhaposdy and Another One Bites the Dust emerging almost fully formed.

The best way to illustrate a movie that doesn’t work is to point to one that does. The best comparison to Bohemian Rhapsody is F. Gary Grey’s titanic 2013 musical bio-pic Straight Outta Compton. While that movie also has it’s share of hero worshipping, it hits all of the procedural elements exactly. We see NWA being forced to lay face-down on the sidewalk by the police and how that inspires “F*** the Police”. We get a sense that the rise of NWA’s music rides, or inspires, a movement bigger than itself. Why is Queen rebelling against authority? What is it in the zeitgeist their music is speaking to? How does Mercury’s taboo boundary pushing sexuality figure into it? Rhapsody isn’t curious about any of the behind the scenes stuff. It’s as shallow as Compton’s structure is bulletproof.

Rhapsody finds it’s climax in Queen’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert. While the concert ¬†would be recognized as one of the best live performances of all time, from a movie-ending story standpoint there are absolutely no stakes or weight to any of it. At this point Queen is an established hit-maker with nothing to prove. The movie’s flimsy answer to this is to revise history and re-order Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis as coming before Live Aid instead of 2 years after. That’s bad enough but even in this fictional version of Mercury’s life in this movie, we’re supposed to think his performance was brave, but again Mercury was a consummate professional and an artist. What are we supposed to think, that he’d break down in tears on stage? That he has to have AIDS to give a performance for this caliber at an AIDS benefit? Give us a break here. Ick. There is probably a great Queen biography still rattling around out there and one day we may get it.