As it skims the surface of Freddie Mercury and Queen's lives and careers, the swift yet lengthy Bohemian Rhapsody often verges on becoming something as thrilling as Queen itself -- and then crashes back into the off-putting, the ill-considered or the ridiculous. Was it Bryan Singer, the project's original director, or Dexter Fletcher, the director who finished the film, who elected to frame Mercury's homosexuality not just as a truth of self the singer at first can't face, but as a grim temptation destined to doom him, like he's some rock 'n' roll Jedi trying to shake off the Dark Side? It's easy to assume that Singer, director of many X-Men movies, must have handled the early scene where 20-something Farrokh Bulsara (Mercury's birth name) convinces his reluctant future bandmates to take him on as a singer. The beats are the same as if he were some new mutant convincing Professor X he belonged on the team.
But who takes the blame for the choice to save most of the full-scale reproductions of Queen concert performances until the final minutes? Or the dizzying, unintentionally hilarious leaps in time? In the years since 2007's Walk Hard, the best Hollywood comedy of the last two decades, lives-of-musicians biopics have gotten shrewder and bolder. Rami Malek is a marvel as the cocksure public Freddie. (He lip-syncs during the songs to the actual voice of Mercury.) And he shades the offstage man with doubt and determination. But despite strong performances and a thrilling concert finale, Bohemian Rhapsody leaps backward. It's one of those biopics where everything significant that happened to a famous person happens all at once, in the couple of seconds of any given year that we see dramatized.