Bohemian Rhapsody is a great tribute to rock group Queen. Byran Singer’s troubled production focuses more on fan service to Queen than on its front man, Freddie Mercury. Rami Malek is the high note in an otherwise paint-by-numbers biopic.
My introduction to Queen was their theme song for the 1980 film, Flash Gordon. I fell for their style, the music flowed to its own rhythm, a rhapsody if you will. By that definition, it was enthusiastic about its protagonist, someone who was out to be humanity’s savior. My older brother introduced me to more of their music on a road trip. Bicycle Race was the song that stuck with me. Little did I know that I had already heard their anthem We Are the Champions when I saw Revenge of the Nerds at a young age.
All of this formed my impression of a group of musicians who didn’t sound like they belonged playing together, yet they made music that anyone could relate to. They had a distinctive style all their own.
But, it was nothing without lead singer, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek). Or so his biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody tells us. Freddie, who died due to complications from AIDS, was as much as showman as he was an artist. He was a recluse; someone who fought his own identity despite the fact that everyone around him knew that he was gay.
The story, by Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan, screenplay by McCarten paints a picture of someone who was uncomfortable in his own skin, but once the music started, he found himself. This is the main theme that director Bryan Singer explored.
Malek, in a word, is breathtaking as Mercury. The Mr. Robot actor is known for his shyness. In Rhapsody he makes bohemian sheikh. Reportedly, he spent a great deal of time prepping for the role by watching Mercury’s performances, mimicking his movements with his on stage theatrics and flamboyance.
The background details, that of the formation of Queen, its associated rise, fall and rise again were aided by surviving band members Brian May (Gwylim Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy.) A good portion of the film is dedicated to the creation of several songs written either by Mercury or jointly with other members of the group.
Mike Myers, who should get a supporting nomination is a foundation for the shape and direction, or lack thereof of Queen in his role as Ray Foster, an EMI executive. There’s a scene in his lavish office in which Queen and he argue the merits of putting Bohemian Rhapsody out as a single. The argument is that the six minute length song won’t get air time because it’s too long. Myers relished in the role and we relish seeing him on the screen.
Although these details never really detract from Mercury’s story, it doesn’t leave a great deal of room to focus on Mercury as a person. For a biopic, he was the front man of a musical movement. Other than his family life and his relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), the nerve of the film was Queen. Ms. Boynton was a strong choice to play Mary Austin, someone who had to put up with Mercury’s idiosyncrasies. There’s a scene where they are in their respective homes, Mercury phones her to invite her over for a drink and they woo each other over the phone. It’s a cute scene, which is filmed with a good deal of affection.
There are lose threads within the story about the destructive nature of his dependence on alcohol and drugs, something that’s fueled by Paul Prenter (Allen Leach). The story treats Prenter’s relationship with Mercury as having some great importance, but in reality, the relationship was just a blip. The sequence in the German rental home, which serves as Mercury’s return to reality is perhaps the best dramatic moment in the film. I was not keen on Mr. Leach’s performance because the character required someone to be a vile man, someone who could truly cut Mercury off from the rest of the world. Rather, that sequence turns out to be Ms. Boynton’s finest hour.
Singer’s direction, and reportedly his editing, focuses on the rise, fall and rise of Queen that it doesn’t leave much time in the 134 minute run time to speak to Mercury’s contraction of AIDS or of his later relationship with Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker). I am glad that the filmmakers chose to not use his illness in a certain way, making the scene where he breaks the news to his mates, his family, much more poignant. In spite of this, it still feels secondary to the 1985 Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium.
That’s what’s the most troublesome. This could have, and should have been a much better film about Freddie Mercury. Instead, the troubled production which reportedly churned for over 12 years, is more about Queen. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Malek really is the star of the film. He makes us forget that there were problems or that there was another version, which we will never see, sadly.
Fans of Queen will find much to like with Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen always was for the people and so is Bryan Singer’s film, for better or worse.
Now in theaters, Bohemian Rhapsody is rated PG-13.