Nothing bold or original is splashed onto the screen in Bryan Singer's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Maybe that's the point. After all, what can a filmmaker possibly do to break the mold of the rise and fall biopic? It's not like critically acclaimed biopics such as "Ray," "I Walk the Line," "Bound for Glory," "Straight Outta Compton," and "Coal Miner's Daughter" had groundbreaking narratives either. No, but what made them work was the filmmaking and the way they told their stories. For all the conventional tropes tackled in these films, the filmmaking had a you-are-there sense of wonder that made them palpably felt and lived-in.
And so here we are, and yet another biopic based on a legendary musical figure has emerged on the Hollywood release calendar. Tackling Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, 'Rhapsody' has all the conventions you expect, but none of the filmmaking prowess to elevate it beyond that. A lot of the blame must rest on the specific moments chosen to depict on-screen. The clear highlights are the musical sequences; The band molding together the parts for their epic Bohemian Rhapsody, finding the iconic bass line of Another One Bites the Dust and, of course, an 11 minute re-creation of the famous Live Aid performance which shook the world back in 1985. However exciting these moments are, they are fleeting in nature as Singer would rather focus his attention on the melodramatics that shaped Mercury's life rather the music itself. And even then, Singer, just like Mercury, a gay man himself, doesn't fully delve into the deeply indebted struggle that the singer had to deal with as a gay man in late '70s and early '80s Britain.
Mercury is played by Rami Malek in unexpectedly impressive ways. The 37-year-old "Mr. Robot" actor finds the grace notes to elevate the film beyond its dire constraints. The passion he infuses in his portrayal of Mercury is astoundingly humane. Even if the script by Anthony McCarten ("The Theory of Everything," "The Darkest Hour") shouldn't give him much room to expand that artistry. The actor breaks through the conventions with a magnetism that holds your attention throughout. Malek doesn't only look the part, but he also nails Freddie’s dance moves down to a tee, not to mention the famous overbite the singer had --Mercury was born with four extra teeth which gave his voice that legendary high-octave oomph we've come to know.
And yet, for all the shades of greatness Malek gifts to Singer's film, the superficiality of the story being told doesn't go away. There's a gutlessness to the whole ordeal that doesn't ring true, a lack of intimacy if you will, no doubt due to its knack for skittering through events rather than staying put and sinking into them. The film always seems to be in a rush trying to cram in as much as possible into its 134 minute running-time, so much so that it fails to settle down and consume the emotional subtleties needed to tell Mercury's story. Instead, the joys come within the music, the jukebox-like sequences that make the film bearable despite the glossed-up Hollywood mechanism at hand. Ironically, the main flaw is that there just isn't enough rhapsody. [C+]