Oh stop. Bohemian Rhapsody might not be the greatest Best Picture nominee on planet Earth, but it is really not the worst film ever. A 3.5 is truly justifiable, and I will get into the crux of it here. Is it a run-of-the-mill biopic? Yes, but that didn’t stop other films of the exact same nature from being praised before (I’m looking at Green Book, which even came out this very same year). Bohemian Rhapsody is literally what the band Queen was: a crowd pleaser. That may stymie it from reaching pure contextual greatness, but that hardly makes it a sinful flick. If this was the mid 00’s, a film like this would have definitely been nominated for Best Picture, and would have had higher rated reviews. We are a part of a different time, and we do get many films like this one, but there are enough strengths to maybe not insist that it was a more worthy film than Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk and many others, but to understand why it’s even here in the first place.
Exhibit A is strictly Rami Malek. Rami Rami Rami. Gary Oldman similarly created an illusion that Darkest Hour was an all around brilliant film when it wasn’t (I’d actually go out and say I prefer Bohemian Rhapsody any day). Because Malek as Freddie Mercury saves the entire film, each scene feels a little bit better; enough to make you forget the problems every moment has. There is imitation, and then there is candidness, and Malek makes Mercury’s vocal quivers, kind eyed stares, and charisma spine tingling. This performance reminded me so very much of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in the film of the same last name; he might not have been identical twins with the subject matter, but this was a performance for the ages. Same thing with Malek, who didn’t even use the safe option of having contact lenses to even have the same eye colour. That didn’t matter. The performance was spot on, it was scene enhancing, it was great line delivery (enough to make a just-decent screenplay perform like poetry), and it was the heart and soul of the entire project.
I don’t feel justified slamming a film whose performance makes almost every moment worthwhile. To relate to Darkest Hour again, I honestly rewatched the film two additional times after my first initial viewing to try and understand why it was nominated for so many awards, and I just could not wrap my head around it. With Bohemian Rhapsody, the only main blunder is the Best Picture nomination, which, again, feels more like a safe bet rather than a completely stupid decision. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was a far more baffling pick, for instance. Bohemian Rhapsody is more like Les Miserables. You question how it got there, and then you see the many understandable sub category nominations that just make sense. Sound mixing and editing. Editing. Malek himself. That’s four nominations, when The Post got by with literally one additional nomination outside of Best Picture. With between-6-to-10 nominees allocated each year, of course a film with fewer voting numbers will work its way in, and we’ve seen that a number of times before.
And these other nomination categories, along with Malek, are the saving graces here. The sound mixing and editing elevate each of the recording and performance scenes (which, outside of Malek, truly are the highlights of the film). When the story gets stale — bam — a song moment brings you back in. A non existent fight between band members happens? Let’s toss in Another One Bites the Dust and experience the magic of Queen songwriting. A hiatus that never took place, somehow, takes place? The film defining Live Aid sequence closes things off (come on, the Live Aid moment just works). The editing itself makes every moment of the film play like a racing heart, or a music video. So many little things here turned a substandard film into a mightily debatable film; one that is a tug-of-war between critics and audiences.
A lot of the films woes have to do with a combatting identity. We all know about the infamous Bryan Singer incidents, and how he had to be replaced mid-production (not that Singer was a great director to begin with; yeah, I went there). There are many artistic decisions that really work, and some that just kind of work (that difficult press discussion scene is an example off of the top of my head). Through mind, Bohemian Rhapsody clunks. Each song is a check point in a video game that allows you to just lurch towards the next one. The band’s history is Wikipedia levels of informed : just enough, but not quite enough either. With regards to Mercury, it is both shallow and deep. We discover very little about his fibre of his being, including his sexual preferences and why he is the scene stealer that he is. Yet, when it comes to his passion otherwise, we see all of the colours. The film puts the most effort into his relationship with Mary Austin, who was there for a good chunk of Queen’s rise to superstardom. There’s also his ties to Paul Prenter, who was toxic for Mercury, and the film goes into this a little bit as well.
This is why Bohemian Rhapsody frustrates critics, and yet it bowls over audiences. The film is a mutt that was assembled by many, lacks identity with various aspects, has an overly simplistic story, and fumbles for a good portion. However, the word of the day is heart. Heart is what made Malek step up for every scene. Heart is what made the sound work and the editing tidy up the messes left by previous tenants. Love for Queen and Freddie Mercury took a troubled project and turned it into something that you can at least get by with. Audiences went to go see this film for the story of Freddie Mercury and the songs Queen created, and that’s exactly what they got. Queen was never about listening to the critics, anyways. People like me are the Ray Fosters of the world when it comes to Bohemian Rhapsody: we can say what we want, and it didn’t matter in the end (and we sometimes get portrayed by Mike Myers). Bohemian Rhapsody is inoffensive at the end of the day. I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen better. I’ve seen both nominated for Best Picture. It won’t win anyways, so what’s the problem with letting it have its moment for the fans that adore it?
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.