The emotional new biopic on the late Freddie Mercury (played by Rami Malek), Bohemian Rhapsody, is a little hard to pin down and isolate into simple categories, much like its mercurial lead.
On one hand, the movie is fairly paint-by-numbers for its genre. If you have seen one rock star biopic, you already know the movie’s basic plot. Artist becomes famous. Artist gets overwhelmed by fame and becomes a jerk. Artist loses fame. Artist realizes they’ve been a jerk and regains fame. Roll credits.
However, the movie doesn’t feel as formulaic because of the strong performances by the cast. In particular, Rami Malek melts seamlessly into the role of Freddie Mercury, playing the part with a combination of rockstar swagger, facing down studio executives or rocking out to adoring crowds, but also with shocking levels of vulnerability, particularly in the scene where he comes out to his then wife Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). This is a version of Mercury that can shift from stunning a crowd of thousands with flamboyant bombast, to sulking because his parents are showing off his baby pictures.
The chemistry among the other members of Queen is also a strong point of the film. Throughout Bohemian Rhapsody, the band members explain that Queen is their family, and the film sells it. They bicker, fight and mock each other, but also show stunning amounts of enthusiasm and an ability to follow the others’ off-the-wall ideas.
Almost every band member has a scene showing them getting excited about a bandmate’s idea, with a particularly strong sequence showing how “We Will Rock You” was written. When the studio tells them they cannot release “Bohemian Rhapsody”—via a clever Mike Myers cameo—the band stands united without a trace of disagreement between them.
The portrayal of Mercury’s homosexuality is where the movie could have used more clarity. When Freddie comes out to Mary, it is tragically realistic and does a good job of portraying both of the characters’ pain at the dissolving marriage, while making it clear neither blames the other.
Immediately following this scene however, Freddie begins to spiral, cutting himself off more and more from the people who care about him. This is problematic because his spiraling is directly connected to a toxic homosexual relationship. To reiterate, this is a movie about an LGBT icon showing his life spiraling out of control the moment he embraces his sexuality.
Of course, maybe that’s the point. The movie portrays Freddie not as a hero to any community, but as a flawed individual who does not and will not fit neatly into anyone’s ideas of who and what he should be. He struggles with his own identity, but he refuses to let anyone else define it for him. When he finally defines himself as a performer above all else, it is impossible to disagree. The movie ends with 10 solid minutes of Queen performing. I left the theater and eagerly queued up “The Show Must Go On” into my headphones because I didn’t want the performance to end yet.