Bohemian Rhapsody had a long and fraught production, during which Sacha Baron Cohen (and others) dropped out of playing frontman Freddie Mercury to ultimately be replaced by Malek, while director Dexter Fletcher took over after Bryan Singer was removed from the project amid rumoured on-set clashes with its star.
And, now, critics have had their say, often citing the film’s missed opportunities in relation to the darker periods of Queen’s history and to providing insight into Mercury the man behind the mask…
Writing for The Independent, Clarisse Loughrey said: “Bohemian Rhapsody serves as a ‘greatest hits’ rendition of the band with any ‘darkest lows’ dutifully but lightly dealt with so as not to interrupt the flow”. She adds that while Malek’s performance is “a nuanced handling of the musician that, if given better material to work with, would surely have made Malek part of the awards conversation,” the movie ultimately fails to serve as a satisfying biopic to the star.
Many of her peers took a similar tack.
For The Guardian, Steve Rose wrote that Malek “apes Mercury’s strutting, virile bravado with dynamic conviction, particularly in the climactic recreation of Queen’s legendary Live Aid performance. It’s a feat of impersonation.” But he concludes that the film ultimately fails to do the late singer justice. “Bohemian Rhapsody honours Mercury the showman but never really gets to Mercury the person.”
Owen Gleiberman wrote in Variety: ““With a performance as commanding as Rami Malek’s at its center, why isn’t ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ a better movie? Despite its electrifying subject, it’s a conventional, middle-of-the-road, cut-and-dried, play-it-safe, rather fuddy-duddy old-school biopic, a movie that skitters through events instead of sinking into them. And it treats Freddie’s personal life — his sexual-romantic identity, his loneliness, his reckless adventures in gay leather clubs — with kid-gloves reticence, so that even if the film isn’t telling major lies, you don’t feel you’re fully touching the real story either.”
And in Time Out New York, Dave Calhoun says: “Bohemian Rhapsody is as brash, loud and mask-wearing as Mercury at his most playful. Another movie would try to get behind that mask — or play with the idea of it — but this does neither. Instead, it grabs the legend by the neck and gallops recklessly with it, climaxing in a wholesale extended re-creation of one of the most famous rock gigs of all time, Queen at Live Aid. Modest and inquiring it is not.”
Can it really be that tame? Only one way to find out…