Queen’s rock operetta “Bohemian Rhapsody” captured my fascination at seven years old. So, after seeing the trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody the film this past May, I lost myself in all the hype and broke my cardinal rule – I read a few of the early reviews. This turned out to be problematic, as the reviews were polarizing; critics were highly critical and fans were fairly gushy.
Critics contended that Bohemian Rhapsody is a formulaic film loaded with rock-star clichés. With long-form storytelling in vogue, it would seem that a more voyeuristic piece akin to the hard-hitting Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra was what many critics wanted. But this film is not a granular look at the more controversial aspects of iconic front man Freddie Mercury’s life. To be honest, most of the perspective I gleaned from this film I could have read on Wikipedia. Bohemian Rhapsody is more celebration than examination, just as the fans had led me to believe.
As a young Farrokh Bulsara (Freddie Mercury’s given Parsi name), Rami Malek dons a mustache and mouthpiece and delivers a performance brimming with passion and sexual energy. Malek, known to many from the critically acclaimed USA Network series Mr. Robot, grabs this role by the mic stand and hits all Freddie’s highest notes.
Originally, Sacha Baron Cohen was set to play Freddie Mercury but, to my dismay, he left when his darker vision for the project clashed with that of the band. Additionally, fans questioned the choice of controversial director Bryan Singer, known for his on-set tantrums and alleged sex scandals involving young men. It didn’t help that the director’s superhero turn, X-Men: Apocolypse, had been a resounding dud.
Rami Malek emphatically allays any disappointment I had felt since learning that Cohen had moved on, but Rami has plenty of help. There is excellent support from Gwilyn Lee as the legendary guitar god and physicist Brian May (whom Lee strikingly resembles). Ben Hardy preens as Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazello rocks steady as bass player John Deacon. Lucy Boynton dazzles as Freddie’s early love interest and lifelong friend, Mary Austin, and Allen Leech schemes as Queen’s devious manager. We even get to see Mike Myers as the label exec who had no faith that “Bohemian Rhapsody” could be a hit single. This devoted cast of b-list actors, free of the celebrity cults that burden many stars, charms and surprises at every turn.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a blast, delivering transcendent musical moments, a genuine reproduction of the era and a killer Queen soundtrack. The final sequence is magical, with a shot-for-shot reenactment of Queen’s historic Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium in London. The film may not be a gritty tell-all, but it is faithful and reverent to its subject and can be enjoyed by many, not just the critical few. This film is not the highest grossing music biopic in history for nothing. Check it out if you haven’t already. I’m going to see it again.