Bohemian Rhapsody

A flawed piece of work, but Rami Malek brings passion and energy to the role of Freddie Mercury that are unprecedented.
★★½
Movie Review #1,135

bohemian_rhapsody

Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. Biography, Drama, Music. Running time: 2 hours, 14 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language. Released November 2, 2018. Directed by Bryan Singer. Produced by Jim Beach and Graham King. Story by Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan. Screenplay by McCarten. Starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker, Meneka Das, Ace Bhatti, Priya Blackburn, and Dickie Beau.

Sometimes all you need to make a movie memorable is one stunning performance. That’s the case here with “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Rami Malek absolutely carries the movie in his performance as Freddie Mercury, the frontman of rock band Queen. He looks, talks, and acts like this superstar and that’s something that few could pull off. The man was born for this role. Even when he’s just lip-syncing to the songs of Freddie Mercury, from the recording sessions of songs like “We Will Rock You” and “Another One Bites the Dust” to the band’s iconic performance at the Live Aid charity concert in 1985, he brings passion and energy to the role that are unprecedented.

This is a Hollywood movie. Many historical inaccuracies abound and it’s in the hands of screenwriter Anthony McCarten that these events are tailored to fit a more artistic timeline as he sees fit. He’s been infamous for taking such liberties in his screenplays for “The Theory of Everything” (based on the life of Stephen Hawking) and “Darkest Hour” (based on the life of Winston Churchill). In those cases it worked; in this case, the historical goofs just feel lazy. It may help to go in blind, having not grown up during Queen’s success and perhaps knowing little about Queen at all. On the flip side, McCarten offers dialogue that is rather enjoyable. The banter between the band members, and sometimes between others, is iconic. My personal favorite scene in the film came with a cameo from Mike Myers as the band’s manager. Their argument over whether a long and otherworldly song like “Bohemian Rhapsody” should be produced is a highlight of the film. “I pity your wife if you think six minutes is an eternity,” Freddie Mercury says, drawing approval from the audience.

The film’s focus isn’t so much on the band itself as it is on its frontman and in that respect it feels rather superficial. Oftentimes we feel like we’re just checking the boxes on territory every musical biopic should explore and that can feel a bit mundane. We never really delve into the gravity of Freddie’s repressed sexuality or what it’s like to be a gay man in the 1970s. Nor do we venture into what exactly made Freddie such a legend. Sure he talks about being a legend and they seem to think their band is a game-changer but none of that means anything to us when there’s nothing to show for it in the film. What makes matters worse is later in the film when Freddie starts to part ways with the band. He becomes an increasingly unlikable, childish, and impulsive asshole. This is a film that simply wants one thing and that’s a feel-good reaction from its audience but this segment of the film feels draining. But Malek is never missing a beat with his performance as Mercury, and by the time the Live Aid concert rolls around at the end, he’s able to bring it back on its feet. It’s possibly the most stunning reenactment performance you’ll see in any film. As previously mentioned, he carries the film. It may be flawed, but Malek is its savior.

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