My Review of Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

bohemian rhapsody
Image courtesy of IMDb: Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in the highly anticipated bio-pic, Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).

3.3/5| Drama| Music| 2hr 13m

Director: Bryan Singer, Dexter Fletcher
Screenplay: Anthony McCarten
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel

What an entertaining piece of historical fiction. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this film, which feels poetic considering it tells the story of one of rock and roll’s most controversial figures, Freddie Mercury. With behind the scenes drama that ranges from cast and director changes to band member meddling, Bohemian Rhapsody winds up being a surprisingly paint by numbers bio-pic that has been accused of sanitizing the nitty gritty of Queen’s legendary reign in favor of a more family-friendly (aka profitable) theatrical expedition.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a smorgasbord of information, style and tonal shifts, similar to the classic song for which it is named. The film opens with Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) preparing for Queen’s iconic reunion performance at Live Aid in 1985 and right before he steps on stage we are flashed back to 1970. Here we follow Farrokh Bulsara’s relationship with his parents, the meeting of his bandmates, the formation of Queen, the changing of his name, his discovery of his sexuality,  his strangely possessive relationship with his ex-wife, his solo career, his learning of his illness, and we ultimately come full circle by ending with Queen’s Live Aid performance from the beginning of the film–Whew.

Image courtesy of Slash Film: Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee as Freddie Mercury and Brian May in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).

This film has an overwhelming amount of information for an audience to absorb over the course of two hours, however it moves along at breakneck speed and snags the viewer with classic songs you can to stomp your feet to. It has an irresistible charm that manages to  keep you from acknowledging (at least temporarily)  the overwhelming sense that this thing is way too cinematic to be historically accurate… and that’s because its not. Many critics’ issue with this film is that it plays fast and loose with the timing and playing out of certain events. They believe Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher did an irresponsible job of presenting Freddie Mercury and his bandmates in an effort to make this more widely accessible. All those points are valid. I can’t entirely disagree with the grievances of critics,  but I can admit that the revisionist history perpetrated by this film’s creators doesn’t bother me as much as everyone else; allow me to to tell you why.

I was never a huge fan of Queen until recently when I started listening to their discography in preparation for this film. Obviously, they are amazing and legendary, but there is an attachment to this band that I don’t possess myself. Therefore,  I wasn’t as affected by the handling of certain information as everyone else was. I also don’t believe that the creators of this bio-pic have played with the truth in any way that is drastically different from the many ways people have meddled with history in other bio-pics. A film’s purpose is to entertain and inform, and I thought Bohemian Rhapsody did an okay job on both fronts due to the outstanding performances.

I am ready to see Rami Malek lip-sync “We Are the Champions” all the way through awards season, because his performance could not be a bigger advertisement for gold statuettes if he had put “For your consideration”  in the credits. And let it be known that I fully support that campaign because he is more than deserving of Best Actor nominations (I’m almost positive he will win a Golden Globe). He effortlessly embodies music royalty in his portrayal of Freddie Mercury and makes this whole work of fiction well worth the price of admission. However, just like Freddie himself, Malek couldn’t deliver a great performance without the help of his team.

Image courtesy of IMDb: Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton as Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).

A sea of relatively unknown/up-and-coming young actors make-up a majority of the supporting cast and although they are never really given much to do, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee and Joseph Mazzelo (who play the remaining Queen band members, Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon) are fine palette cleansers to Malek’s scenery chewing. They ground his performance with their nuance. However, they have nothing on the demure showcase of Lucy Boynton (who many of us recognize from Sing Street (2016)) as Mary Austin, Freddie’s ex-wife and best friend. She is simply magnetic as the tortured love-interest and shares some of the most powerful scenes in the film with Malek. She was definitely one of my favorite people in the movie, right next to Mike Myers as EMI record executive Ray Foster, who makes a corny but great reference to Wayne’s World (1992). Now that I think about it, that is probably the sole reason they cast Myers in that role and I find that pretty hilarious.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a mixed bag with an existence that feels painfully ironic. Freddie Mercury never wanted his personal life to eclipse the importance of his music, but this film focuses on Freddie’s love life more than any music is actually played or heard on screen. For that reason, I don’t really have it in me to recommend my readers go see it in theaters. However, I would definitely suggest everyone check it out once it hits streaming because although Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t rock me, I never felt that I had to be spared from a monstrosity. For some reason I kept waiting for the hammer to fall, but this movie just never cracked under pressure… okay I’ll stop.

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