The American Academy awards shouldn’t always be used as the barometer for the contemporary tastes of cinema. Often, they entirely missing the year’s greatest films and most impressive efforts in favour of industry shlock. 2006s was a prime example of such aimless attention, giving the award for Best Picture seemingly at random to Paul Haggis’ Crash, a film with the same emotional subtlety as Kendall Jenner’s 2017 Pepsi commercial.
Quite how Crash pipped Ang Lee’s socially pertinent Brokeback Mountain and Bennett Miller’s Capote to the post, is something left to the ongoing mysteries of the Academy Awards voting panel. Thirteen years later, and a similarly strange Oscar season went down, with the 91st Academy Awards seeing the decidedly average Green Book take home the grand prize ahead of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Though, what was perhaps even more curious was the sheer inclusion of Bryan Singer’s dull Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody in the same category, and worse still, the achievement of Rami Malek winning Best Actor for his role in the film.
Tracking the story of the iconic British rock band, Queen and lead singer Freddie Mercury, the film leads up to their famous performance at Live Aid in 1985 whilst touching tentatively on the personal life of the legendary frontman. Riddled with its own narrative problems, Singer’s film is a karaoke history of the band’s enormous legacy, reducing each monumental landmark to a meaningless morsel of conversation before getting back onto the flashy performance sequences.
Leading the film from the front line is a magnificent impersonator of the great Freddy Mercury, dressed and meticulously made up to perfectly replicate the unique aesthetic of the iconic singer. Rami Malek does as best he can with the weak script from screenwriter Anthony McCarten, eliciting more than the words themselves deserve in his performance that provides great replication of the personal nuances of Freddy Mercury.
Past this, however, and Malek’s performance is about as dense as a karaoke performer reciting ‘We are the Champions’ on a Saturday night after the football. Granted, this largely comes as a result of Anthony McCarten’s threadbare script that gives so little meat for Malek to chew on and withdraw a great performance. Although the actor certainly channels Freddie Mercury’s flamboyant bravado superbly, he is merely replicating the singer’s visible ticks, with so little of his embedded emotional turmoil.
Such could’ve been scattered through Malek’s vocal performance, though even this wasn’t allowed the necessary depth to grow, with the production team using an assortment of different voices to create the final vocals in the film. This included a mix of Malek’s performance, as well as Mercury’s vocals, as well as the voice of Marc Martel, a singer famed for his accurate covers of Queen songs.
Mere months after the Oscar success of Bohemian Rhapsody, Dexter Fletcher’s biopic of Elton John, Rocketman, was released in cinemas, eclipsing the quality of Singer’s film in almost every area. The extraordinary life of Freddy Mercury is certainly worth exploring, though Bohemian Rhapsody and the performance of Rami Malek was a limp effort.