Directed by Bryan Singer
Great music, great performance, great style, great dialogue, great editing, and yet…
…this is not a good movie. In fact, it’s a pretty bad one.
And it all comes down to Bryan Singer’s direction (no relation). There is nothing worse than a paint-by-numbers biopic, no matter how great the subject or how great the elements. It pares down an interesting, exciting or unique life in to a series of things that happen, instead of connecting with a life lived. It’s made worse by more than a few moments that will lead you to roll your eyes (looking at you, Mike Meyers). Y’know what I mean: here’s the day they met, here’s the first gig, here’s the day they were signed, here’s the day Freddie falls in love…and on and on. That formula means there can be no tension or build. And any story about Freddie Mercury deserves much, MUCH more. If the film had solely spanned the time between his leaving Queen and his diagnosis (don’t think I’m spoiling much here), THAT would have been a REALLY interesting film. Instead…it’s a very lush and expensive “VH1 Behind the Music.”
That said, it sure sounds and looks good. Give Singer credit for one thing, he knows how to frame a shot. And his transitions are like magic (if occasionally over-the-top). And the look, the costumes, and the general style is gorgeous. Aaron Haye’s design, Julian Days’ costumes and Anna Lynch-Robinson’s set decorations are almost as important as the performances. And John Ottman has edited the hell out of this thing to make it feel more substantial than it is. Finally, the music is fantastic! Even if you don’t particularly enjoy Queen, you’ll find it hard not to get swept up in the music making. There are too many technicians who helped make these performances look and feel in the moment to list, but Brian May and Roger Taylor obviously had massive input and they should be very proud of the final product from an aural POV.
But while you come to this film for the music, you stay for Rami Malik’s performance. He’s remarkable. He’s brilliant onstage, has access to the many emotional layers necessary to inhabit a genius like Mercury, and overcomes some hackneyed scenes with earnestness. Again, I wish there had been more to see from the latter stages of his life…and, to be fair, they don’t shy away from too much (although the amount of screen time given to the AIDS epidemic, and his relation to it, is pretty reprehensible). Considering he was a second choice for the role, he’s simply fantastic. Everyone else in the film is fine…I suppose. Though they aren’t given much to do other than play exposition. Poor Lucy Boynton. She’s so lovely in one of my Top Ten films, “Sing Street”, that it was a bit of a shock to see how poorly she was used here. Ben Hardy and Joe Mazzello, as Roger Taylor and John Deacon, respectively, are quite good in their limited roles. Gwilym Lee, as Brian May actually fares better and stands out as one of the few three-dimensional characters in the film. That he has the same screen time as the other two just shows how much more accomplished a performance it is. But there are a couple really terrific, if smaller, performances. Allen Leach is phenomenal, and unrecognizable from his “Downton Abbey” days. And finally, doing the most with the least amount of screen time is Aaron McCusker (brilliant in season one of “Fortitude”), who is simply fantastic in his five minutes. Almost stole the film, in fact. Everyone else in the film is a caricature. They try like hell, but it’s hard to elevate any character that feels like its jumped right out of an ABC After School Special.
I dunno. I’m torn. The critic in me is so disappointed at how much better the film could have been, if focused, that I’m almost angry. But, by the end of the film’s AMAZING final twenty minutes, I certainly felt I’d got my money’s worth. As will you. So…I guess just don’t expect too much emotional connection and you’ll have a blast.
How’s that for hedging?
Written on 11/9/2018