Possible spoilers ahead!
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the long-awaited biopic about British rock band Queen, but in particular the band’s lead singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek). The film begins in 1970 London when a young Freddie (still going by his birth name, Farrokh Bulsara) is working as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport. His dream, however, is to become a musician and make a name for himself.
One night Freddie sees an up and comer band local band called Smile perform, and Freddie convinces their guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) to make him their new lead singer. The new band later add bass guitarist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) to their ranks and dub their new band Queen.
After initial success at home, Queen hires a new manager in John Reid (Aidan Gillen) and their sound grows increasingly experimental, much to the dismay of EMI boss, Ray Foster (Mike Myers). Before long, though, Queen is performing around the world to sellout crowds. But as Freddie becomes a celebrity, his wild ways threatens to tear Queen apart and creates a rift between him and his onetime girlfriend-turned lifelong companion, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton).
As a longtime fan of Queen, I was really looking forward to what “Bohemian Rhapsody” had to offer. The film delivered with some excellent musical numbers and an out of this world performance by Rami Malek. However, “Bohemian Rhapsody” sticks closely to the typical biopic formula by using montages as years pass by, and by running through all the major events in Queen’s history.
All the usual stuff is there: humble beginnings, skyrocketing fame, break-up, and the eventual reconciliation. To be fair, “Bohemian Rhapsody” does explore a few of these plot devices in detail. But the film doesn’t try to do anything new with the formula, which is a shame, because if it could work in any movie, it would be in a film about Freddie Mercury.
I guess I was hoping “Bohemian Rhapsody” would give fans more of an insight into the band members. Of course the movie focuses on Freddie’s experiences, but in the end, “Bohemian Rhapsody” does very little with the rest of Queen. Poor John Deacon, I think he had ten lines of dialogue in the entire movie. We don’t even see him try out for the band, he’s just there one scene and a voiceover tells us he’s the bass player.
The film’s portrayal of Freddie’s sexuality, personal lifestyle and eventual contraction of AIDS, could have been better. Maybe the filmmakers couldn’t go as far as they could have due to the PG-13 rating, but I felt like some of Freddie Mercury’s relationships deserved a more in-depth look. Same goes to his diagnosis, but I did like how he never kept it secret from the band, and that they in return never judged him for it.
But that’s where most of my complaining ends because Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury is easily the highlight of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Malek is Freddie Mercury in every way possible, not once did I think “that’s Rami Malek.” As far as I was concerned it was Freddie on that screen, and Malek captured the essence of the singer, from his charming manner and swagger to his moves onstage, it’s all there.
As I mentioned earlier, the other members of Queen don’t get a lot to do in the film. But I have to say, Gwilym Lee, as Brian May is brilliant casting. If I didn’t know any better I’d say Gwilym Lee and May were related in some way, the resemblance is that good. His work won’t get the attention Malek’s will get, but he deserves more credit than what he’s getting.
One of the actors I would have liked to see more of was Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin. She’s the character audiences can relate to the most, and her complicated relationship with Freddie was the most important of his life. “Bohemian Rhapsody” tried showing how important they were to each other, but the relationship still felt under-developed.
Something that the film nailed were the live performances, in particular, Queen’s Live Aid set. I remember watching the real thing on tv in 1985 but seeing Queen perform “Radio Ga Ga” in the film sent chills up and down my spine. It was also cool to see people in the theater doing the hand clap sequence made famous in that performance.
Although I have some issues with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I still enjoyed the film. Rami Malek delivers a career-defining performance worthy of an Academy Award. The Live Aid sequence is the best concert recreation I’ve seen in any film. And that incredible music, that’s what always gets me. Queen is a timeless band, with classic music. And despite a few flaws, this movie is worth checking out.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” score: B+