Volume Seven, Issue Forty-Four
“Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody”
Freddie Mercury is a legend, but getting his story told in the movies has taken decades, with numerous starts and stops throughout the years. But now he’s getting the biopic treatment, with Mr. Robot‘s Rami Malek taking up the half-mike stand and mustache, and Dexter Fletcher (who stepped in to direct after Bryan Singer was fired during filming) behind the camera to showcase the life of the greatest frontman in music history. Since Queen is my all-time favorite band, I was very hesitant to see how this film would handle Freddie Mercury, regardless of all of the behind the scenes drama. But thankfully Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t the disaster I was expecting, even though it is a little rough around the edges.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, that means that the film falls into many of the same traps that films like Ray and Walk The Line fall into, where you feel like you’re watching a movie in fast-forward. Bohemian Rhapsody definitely feels that way, especially in the first act of the film, which follows Freddie, Brian May (Gwilym Lee), John Deacon (Joe Mazzello), and Roger Taylor’s (Ben Hardy) attempts to “make it as a band” in an almost laughable way (seriously, you may have flashes of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story during these segments). Despite what this movie presents, Queen did not have a lot of early success, especially in the United States. The film also plays around with continuity in weird ways, like having the release of “We Will Rock You” be in 1980, instead of on 1977’s News of the World, and Freddie discovering his AIDS diagnosis before their famous Live Aid performance in 1985, when all accounts have stated that he didn’t know about his illness until, at the earliest, 1986. If you judge Queen’s discography by just this film, they only released about four albums, which isn’t close to being true, and the film even outright neglects to mention that the band was actively working on The Works in 1983, whereas for the purposes of the film narrative they’re broken up so Freddie can pursue a solo career and have the typical trappings of being a famous rock star.
And yet, despite this, Bohemian Rhapsody is still a pretty entertaining movie, and much of that is due to Rami Malek’s performance. While there are times where you can tell you’re not watching the real Freddie Mercury, there are more moments where Malek disappears into the role. I’ve seen their Live Aid performance numerous times, but after seeing it recreated so well here, there’s no way I’ve watched it as many times as Malek must have. Freddie was both shy and reserved offstage and a powerhouse onstage, and Malek is able to showcase both sides of singer perfectly. He’s an easy lock for a Best Actor nomination when the Oscar talks begin. The only odd thing about his performance is the fact that Fletcher and Singer used a combination of Malek’s voice, singer Marc Matel, and Mercury’s original vocals for some scenes, Malek’s voice for others, and Mercury’s for OTHER scenes. While it’s not Malek’s decision when it came to what voice was used for the singing scenes, it probably would’ve served the movie (and him) better if the director(s) had just picked one choice and used it every time Freddie started belting out a new song.
Malek’s not alone in his impressiveness though. The other members of the band are all well-represented here as well, with Gwilym Lee’s Brian May being the stand out. There are moments where it seemed more believable that the producers invented a time machine and got the Brian May that recorded A Night At The Opera than found Lee, he looks spot on with the guitarist. The other band members have surprisingly meaty roles considering this film is mainly about Freddie Mercury, but they never upstage the leading man, which is nice, especially since Brian May and Roger Taylor played a pretty big role in the production of this film.
What’s also nice about this film? It doesn’t shy away from Mercury’s sexuality. After the first trailer focused a lot on Freddie’s relationship with Mary Austen (Lucy Boynton), many, myself included, worried that it meant that the film would downplay Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. Thankfully that’s not the case, though the film very much keeps some of Mercury’s more infamous antics to the imagination. His famously epic birthday party isn’t nearly as cool in this movie as it probably was in real life, and there a few moments where I wished the film wasn’t so gun shy on showing Freddie’s many lovers. But I was pleasantly surprised that the film didn’t cut out Jim Hutton, who was Freddie’s partner in the years leading up to his death, though I wished it did show a little more of this happy romance and less of his troubled romance with Paul Prenter.
Of course, it’s a little unfair to blame a lot of this film’s narrative and thematic problems when you don’t have a real culprit to pin that blame on. Bryan Singer was famously fired from this film for fighting with Rami Malek and showing up late for work (although I’m sure the frequent sexual assault allegations against him didn’t help either). Singer did end up getting full credit for the entire film, even though Dexter Fletcher finished up the last 16 days of filming and did all of the post-production work. With a director being fired and a replacement being brought in so fast, it’s amazing that Bohemian Rhapsody has turned out as well as it has, but I am curious to see what the film would’ve been like with just ONE director’s vision. Even though Singer’s last film, X-Men: Apocalypse, stands as one of the worst modern superhero films I’ve seen, if his whole vision of this film was anything like the Live Aid sequence, it would’ve been one his better works.
Even a massive Queen fan like myself can understand some of the reasons behind the narrative choices made in this film (except for the “We Will Rock You” one, that legitimately makes no sense, especially when it’s followed up with a sequence revolving around the creation of “Another Bites The Dust” that serves the same purpose). Biopics are always tough to pull off, because you can’t fit everything about a person in a two hour movie. But I also think that Freddie Mercury’s life is big enough to fill a trilogy of movies, or even an HBO limited series that could really get into every aspect of his life. Even with all of the behind the scenes turmoil it took to get this story to the big screen, I still think we may get the accurate version of Freddie Mercury’s story that he deserves, but if Bohemian Rhapsody introduces more people to the work of Queen, I’ll consider it a success.