“Singer has been repeatedly accused of sexual assault against underage boys, leading to a thick cloud of unease that hangs over Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Title: Bohemian Rhapsody
Directors: Bryan Singer 👨🏼🇺🇸🌈 and Dexter Fletcher 👨🏼🇬🇧 (uncredited)
Writers: Story by Anthony McCarten 👨🏼🇳🇿 and Peter Morgan 👨🏼🇬🇧 and screenplay by Anthony McCarten 👨🏼🇳🇿
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
There’s no disputing the legendary nature of Queen. Their incomparable songs deserve any number of documentaries and biopics, but this particular biopic from director Bryan Singer—taken over by Dexter Fletcher in its final weeks of filming, after Singer was terminated by Fox for being a general nightmare—falls deeply into mediocrity.
The timeline feels like a skipped pebble, skittering forth in abrupt fits that are simultaneously too quick and yet, so laborious. The repetitive “aha” moments that lead to Queen’s greatest hits feel pat and overly simplistic. And whether or not the events shown are accurate to the formation of Queen’s iconic anthems, the direct line from sketched riffs in the recording studio to screaming legions of fans lend a patina of ease that’s difficult to believe or root for.
If Bohemian Rhapsody had simply been a documentary, I could have sunk my teeth into learning more about the band and how their classic tunes really came to fruition. But as a work of fiction, I felt neither this opportunity for new knowledge nor a successful dramatic tale. To put it simply, I was bored. At least, up until the reenactment of Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985, which suddenly lit the sleeping film ablaze. It’s among these final scenes where I realized that I would have much preferred concert footage than sitting through two hours of loose narrative that took away from, rather than added to, the incredible experience of Freddie Mercury.
Behind Bohemian Rhapsody sits an all-male lineup of creatives, from directors to writers to all but one of its 10 producers. This mirrors the main cast which consists of all men but for Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), the once-lover and lifelong friend of Freddie (Rami Malek).
Mary plays a key role as his moral compass, but her storyline gets swallowed whole by Freddie’s. After he comes out to her—in a never-explained scene where she refutes his bisexuality by flattening him as strictly gay, an assertion the film never bothers to correct—she drops out of the story altogether. That is, until it’s her turn to come back from nowhere to save him from himself.
This unequivocal support falls right in line with the burden of emotional labor that’s long been forced upon women in TV and films. You’ll see this exact trope in recent films like A Star is Born (2018) or Creed II (2018), where women are obliged to prop up the broken men in their lives, often at the cost of their own emotional well-being.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 7% of key cast and crew members were POC.
In real life, Freddie was born in modern-day Tanzania to ethnically Persian parents from India. Thankfully, this background gets retained in the film and it’s a pleasure to see an actor of color assume the leading role. While Malek was born to Egyptian immigrant parents, it’s more important that the role was not whitewashed altogether.
Still, Freddie’s ethnicity has no influence on his character development in Bohemian Rhapsody. People of color live offscreen, save for quick and awkward representations. For one, Freddie gets called “a Paki kid” by his turncoat personal manager. In a longer scene, Freddie appears to bring Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) to meet his family and comes out to them by reaching over to take Jim’s hand—a scene I’m still confused about, because who does that to a poor guy who thinks they’re just nipping out for a tea on their first date?
The scene with Freddie’s parents and sister unfolds in as stilted and ingenuine a manner as the obvious makeup and prosthetics that were probably meant to make Ace Bhatti and Meneka Das look more like Freddie’s real-life parents.
The prosthetics move the way they do—eerily inhuman—and it doesn’t help this category score at all, hammering home the sense that these white writers and directors wouldn’t know what to do with cultural authenticity if it fell into their laps.
Deduction for LGBTQ: -1.00
This penalty comes at the hands of two reasons. First, Singer has been repeatedly accused of sexual assault against underage boys, leading to a thick cloud of unease that hangs over Bohemian Rhapsody—a cloud that having Fletcher clean up his mess can’t begin to erase, especially since Singer remains the only credited director.
This abusive backdrop doubles the level of discomfort in watching the onscreen take on Freddie’s bisexuality which has been rightly criticized by many for being queerphobic. In its defense, the rendering never feels malicious and hasn’t been panned by all LGBTQ critics. Gary Nunn wonders aloud for The Guardian, “What homophobia were people seeing in the film?”
My personal take falls in the former category, however. Perhaps it’s true that the fictionalized version of Freddie’s “descent” into homosexuality and consequent HIV-positive diagnosis reflects the terrifying experience of the AIDS epidemic of the ‘80s. But it takes just one look at cinema as a whole to recognize that this cautionary tale of queerness—and its link to deviancy—has received outsized coverage than the tales of love, security, and strength that also existed during this time period. We see hints of the latter as Freddie and Jim begin to pursue a relationship, but it’s too little, too late. Furthermore, the decision to move up Freddie’s diagnosis in the timeline for greater dramatic effect unfortunately reads as a holy punishment for his “sins”.
Overall, Bohemian Rhapsody perpetuates the idea of heterosexuality as the moral path. It also erases Freddie’s bisexuality, and, as Scott Mendelson puts it succinctly, slut-shames one of the world’s most iconic bisexual heroes.
Mediaversity Grade: D 2.33/5
Bohemian Rhapsody bores but Queen’s legend lives on. After the movie concludes on a high note, with the reenactment of Freddie’s historic performance at Live Aid in 1985, I promptly searched YouTube and enjoyed the same set all over again but in its original form. The simple pleasure of watching Freddie Mercury hold Wembley Stadium in thrall provide so much more entertainment than the soggy, inconsistent plots that make up Singer’s film.
If you’re hankering for a revisit of Queen, instead of supporting a mediocre work—which has a known sexual abuser attached to the project—why not stream one of these five documentaries instead?