Aliya Jones’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is an awesome cinematic Queen experience and Rami Malek is incredible (and the only reason I’m adding an Oscar Talk tag), but that’s all that’s here.
Malek’s performance absolutely deserves to be in the awards season conversation. As I often think in performances that I find exceptional, it was really in the little things that he did that made him Freddie. It was what he said, yes, but it was more in how he said it and his mannerisms and the way he held himself. Then on top of that, he gave a genuinely great dramatic performance. In more than a couple scenes, I thought he was working with a genuinely bad and cliched script. But my eyes were still glued to the screen (actually I rolled them a couple times and then quickly refocused my attention). This is a must-see for him.
As for this cinematic experience, it’s cool. You’re on stage with Queen as they perform. You’re in the recording room as they come up with the hits. The thing is that it’s an experience and nothing more. We know that the songs exist, so seeing them get made is not why we’re here. And it’s always a cheeky teaser thing. Like you see them coming up with the beat for “We Will Rock You” and then it cuts to them in concert. If I was wanting to watch them writing the song, that cut takes out the only part that would actually be new to me.
On top of hitting these major beats we know, this movie is also criminally obvious. I mean absolutely no nuance. It will make sure you know what it’s saying, as if you couldn’t get it from the obvious nods. I felt like a lot of the movie was a series of moments where I was supposed to say “ah so that’s how/why that happened,” but ended up just rolling my eyes.
It also skirted the topics that would be new. I know less than I probably should about Queen, but I learned very little here. It wasn’t that I was going to the theatre for some education, but I guess I just thought that I would get a little more out of it than just seeing Queen on the big screen. Their performances never get old, I got shivers on more than one occasion. But watching them be in the studio for 30 seconds repeatedly definitely did get old.
More than just it getting old, it felt like an actual disservice to Freddie. Not only did I learn very little, but it presents him as a fairly straight-forward character. He is talented, in love, bisexual, in the wrong crowd, and reformed (worth mentioning that he is misguided when in his gay circle and reformed when he’s back surrounded by heteronormative lifestyles). The movie pays very little mind to the complexity that comes in all of these stages. There’s a mention of rumors of his sexuality, and then the movie again forgets that this was an issue. We love Freddie in his presentation, but the movie plays it like we should sympathize with the rest of the band. When he does something wrong, it’s not us understanding where that came from but us waiting for him to again see the light. Apart from more specific nitpicks, Freddie Mercury is just not a person who can fit into the more general rockstar characterization. It’s ludicrous that the movie neglects so much that he does here.
So that’s where the film lost and gained stars for me. Malek is the brightest spot of this movie, and it’s admittedly really awesome just to see a Queen movie that is so cinematic. But I really can’t forgive it for that lack of new story we get here and its awful mistreatment of Mercury. Worth the watch if you’re interested, because the cinematic points it gets are best experienced on the big screen. I watched this at Village East.