Movie review: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ biopic will rock you
You’ll want to download the whole Queen discography after experiencing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the jukebox musical about Freddie Mercury, the band’s bravura frontman who died far too soon.
From the stomp-stomp-clap of “We Are the Champions” to the “Mmm num ba de” of “Under Pressure,” the movie ranks among the year’s best. It’s the crowd-pleaser to end all crowd-pleasers. I dare you not to tap your feet and sing-along. Just don’t expect to learn anything new about Mercury and his bandmates: Brian May (guitar), Roger Taylor (drums) and John Deacon (bass guitar). Director Bryan Singer, working from a script by Oscar-nominated writer Anthony McCarten (“The Darkest Hour,” “The Theory of Everything”) treads lightly around the singer’s darker side and doesn’t shed much insight on Mercury, who died in 1991 at age 45 of AIDS-related complications. Singer, who was fired near the end of filming and replaced by Dexter Fletcher (“Eddie the Eagle”), sticks to the high notes of Mercury’s life: Early years, joining the band, cutting the first album, touring, his ill-fated engagement, record label squabbles, the breakup of the band, the solo outing, the reunion ... you get the drift. It’s all old news. Yet, the check-the-box highlight-reel approach (Think: “Jersey Boys”) works like a charm, carried along by the double-pleasure of Rami Malek’s all-in performance as Mercury and the music. My God, that music can forgive any missteps on the part of the filmmakers. You forget just how many hits Queen had: “You’re My Best Friend,” “Somebody to Love,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Radio Gaga,” “Killer Queen,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
Malek, “Mr. Robot” himself, fully immerses himself in the role of Mercury, who’s shown to be a lover of cocaine and cats. Malek is in nearly every scene, embodying Freddie’s flamboyance and capturing his essence. He even looks the part, wearing a dental prosthetic to give him Mercury’s trademark overbite, due to four extra teeth. Mercury never had them fixed because he thought it would diminish his vocal power. What a voice he had, too, carrying Queen to among the top music groups of the 1970s, generating elaborate, theatrical, sometimes bombastic songs and legendary live shows.
Born Frederick Bulsara in Zanzibar, the son of a government accountant, Mercury was besieged by sexual confusion, drug and alcohol abuse, and a strained relationship with his father (Ace Bhatti), a man who warns Freddie early on: “You can’t get anywhere pretending to be something you’re not.” Ultimately, though, like most, Mercury just wanted — as the song goes — somebody to love.
That somebody was, at first, Mary Austin, played heartbreakingly by Lucy Boynton. Mary was Freddie’s one-time fiancée, the love of his life, whom he met cute when she was 19 and working at a hip London boutique. An unbreakable bond develops and is maintained even after Freddie reveals he’s gay. Much later in the film, Aaron McCusker plays Mercury’s lover (their scenes are sweet), who remains with him until his death.
Structurally, Singer frames the movie around how Queen reunites to steal the show at the 1985 Live Aid concert. The film opens with Freddie ready to take the stage, the camera trailing him from behind, stopping to take in those iconic mirrored sunglasses, wife-beater tank top and black-studded belt before the action flashes back to 1970 and Freddie is a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport. From there it’s chronological order. Freddie joins the band Smile, comprised of Gwilym Lee’s astrophysicist (May), Ben Hardy’s dentist (Taylor) and Joseph Mazzello’s electrical engineer (Deacon). Later, they’ll sell their van to cut their eponymous debut album in 1973. And the rest is history. A standout scene shows how their biggest hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” was composed and recorded at Rockfield Farm in 1975, including multiple takes until Taylor hit just right falsetto on the “Galileo” lyric.
The other-supporting roles are all one-note: Aidan Gillen (“Game of Thrones”) and Allen Leech are the evil band managers; Dermot Murphy is Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof; and an unrecognizable Mike Myers (yes you read that right) is the villainous executive at EMI Records, who refuses to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” because it’s six-minutes long and what exactly is the “nonsense word” like “Scaramouche?” he asks.
The film’s finale is a recreation of Queen’s iconic Live Aid set, with Malek performing a move-for-move reenactment, not missing a beat. Three decades later, it still will rock you.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Joseph Mazzello, Mike Myers.
(PG-13 for thematic elements, drug use, language.)