A movie eight years in the making, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was released on Friday, Nov. 2. With help from surviving Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor as executive music producers, the biopic followed the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury and the formation of the band. Given its tumultuous history being produced, many fans had high expectations for the film and what it could cover. While it did touch upon the singer’s life, including his concerns with his sexuality, appearance and relationship with his parents, it failed to dive deeply into any subject, turning it into a shallow, sanitized look at the legend’s life. Still, Rami Malek delivered a breakthrough performance of Mercury, breaking away from his usual quiet characters and expressing his true range as an actor.
Best known for his role as the quiet, mentally unstable cybersecurity expert on “Mr. Robot,” Malek transformed into the flamboyant and outgoing person Mercury was known to be. Because of his work with “Mr. Robot,” Malek already knew how to portray mental instability and it showed as he portrayed Mercury’s doubts about his sexuality and downward spiral while he created his solo albums. But on stage, he did Mercury justice as the extravagant performer he truly was.
On Malek’s Egyptian descent, Bohemian Rhapsody also did a good job at keeping Mercury’s ethnicity relevant throughout the movie. Many forget that the singer was not Caucasian, but a Parsi-Indian refugee, born Farrokh Bulsara, from Zanzibar. This is touched upon several times in the film, especially in the beginning when people often referred to Mercury as a “Paki,” and he chose to legally change his name to Freddie Mercury.
Apart from casting, though, the film fails to make a major impact on any of the subjects it touches upon, especially regarding Mercury’s sexuality. While portraying his female and male lovers, “Bohemian Rhapsody” didn’t establish his bisexuality as a major part of his life, especially as he pined over Mary Austin, his first love, for the entire film. While it did portray her importance, the film could have done a better job showing Jim Hutton, Mercury’s long-term boyfriend until his death, but Hutton’s character had notably little screen time.
In addition to that, the film barely touched upon the AIDS crisis and Mercury’s illness, showing only the beginning of his sickness and barely mentioning the mass hysteria around the disease that was present during his lifetime. This was probably done as an executive decision by both May and Taylor, who wished to maintain Mercury’s legacy and hoped to make “Bohemian Rhapsody” a “family-friendly” movie. In that way, they wanted to showcase Mercury’s and Queen’s good times more than their bad times, which ultimately turned the film into a very clean account of Mercury’s partying and disease.
The film ended with Queen’s 1985 performance at Live Aid, a benefit concert that was held at Wembley Stadium, instead of Freddie’s final years and death. This meant the film didn’t mention a very important aspect of Freddie’s life and the cultural phenomenon that was the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, which set back LGBTQ history as people were afraid to touch gay people who carried the disease. Still, the ending was uplifting and fun, especially since Queen sang its most popular songs at Live Aid. Some of the audience sang along with Mercury in the stadium, creating a joyous environment, which the surviving members of Queen were aiming to achieve. Yet, there was still a longing for a more concrete ending.
Overall, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a fun biopic, but it fails to illustrate serious, darker aspects of Mercury’s life. May and Taylor were too concerned with making the film “family-friendly” and maintaining a good legacy for Mercury to depict any of the ugly sides of his life, leaving a hole of questions that could only be answered by doing more research on Mercury’s story.