Stomp your feet and clap your hands.
It’s hard not to enjoy “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a new biopic about the engaging rock band Queen, at least on some basic level.
With a soundtrack of catchy, interactive songs that have become karaoke staples and a magnetic lead performance, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a fun crowd-pleaser to say the least.
But it’s so shallow that director Bryan Singer’s film stands out like a sore thumb dramatically, especially with the compelling musical drama “A Star Is Born” playing on a screen just down the hall in most theaters.
Told largely from the perspective of iconic, flamboyant front man Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody” follows a relatively conventional and unusually sunny path from the band’s beginnings through their legendary Live Aid performance in 1985.
The film touches on a number of subject matters – the band’s tumultuous relationship with managers scheming against them, Freddie’s conflicted sexuality and its impact on longtime partner Mary Austin, Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis – that could have each been made into their own movie.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” attempts to pay lip service to all of these, as well as the writing of Queen’s bold discography, often in the rosiest of lights and largely at the expense of the whole endeavor.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” lacks cohesion and focus, due in great part to a bland, muted screenplay and the firing of Singer midway through his own project, which actor/director Dexter Fletcher had to pick up the pieces and complete with 75 percent of the film already shot.
In the movie’s favor, however, is a tremendous and satisfying performance from “Mr. Robot” star Rami Malek, who wholeheartedly melts into the role of Queen’s lead singer and main songwriter.
There’s a bounce to Malek’s step both physically and verbally that accentuates Mercury’s vibrato.
Though it is obvious that Malek isn’t singing, the immersive, demonstrative performance Malek offers allows audiences to suspend their disbelief authentically, especially during the Live Aid concert.
Equally, Malek is genuinely quite good as Mercury off stage, when the bravado of the film’s “Lip Sync Battle”-esque feel gives way to examining Mercury’s sexuality and how the way he assertively lives his life impacts those around him.
The film bounces around far too much for Malek to truly sink his teeth into the complexities of the character as screenwriter Anthony McCarten wanders through Queen’s discography as if it were auto-tuning the band’s Wikipedia entry.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” the film, at least in the eyes of its filmmaker, fancies itself like the song, ranging a gambit of genres at an inexplicable fashion and expecting its audience to love the certain absurdity of it all.
In that way, “Bohemian Rhapsody” sort of works cinematically, allowing people to choose their favorite parts and sing along with wild enthusiasm while smiling along with the randomness.
The biggest problem, however, isn’t that Singer fails to capture the daring creativity of its subject, but rather that Singer doesn’t really have much of anything to say at all.
Everything about “Bohemian Rhapsody” screams paint-by-numbers biopic from the clinical structure of examining the band’s history chronologically to the blatant and constant foreshadowing dialogue that becomes a big flashing sign rather than a subtle wink to audiences.
Malek alone has potential for an Oscar nomination as his transformation into Mercury provides one of 2018’s most immersive performances.
This could reasonably extend to costume designer Julian Day and makeup designer Jan Sewell for helping create the Mercury audiences see on screen.
The film as a whole, however, has such a VH1 “Behind The Music” aesthetic that other top line accolades seem highly unlikely.
There’s so much potential for a film about Queen and its mercurial lead singer to be great.
Malek certainly goes all in on a performance worthy of a great Queen film.
The fact that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is simply a marginal movie makes it the biggest cinematic disappointment of the year.