Bohemian Rhapsody – Movie Review
Freddie Mercury the lead singer of the iconic rock/pop group Queen of the 70’s and 80’s is often considered to have one of the best singing voices in pop music. Mercury, who was actually born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar (now Tanzania) was a master performer and huge personality, who constantly strove to grow and not repeat himself as an artist. Queen, whose other members were Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor was founded in London in 1970, when Roger and Brian’s previous band Smile disbanded and they were looking for a lead singer. According to the film, they weren’t impressed with Mercury’s looks, and couldn’t imagine him as a lead singer, until he opened his mouth.
Bohemian Rhapsody suffers from biopic trappings: weak character arc, messy facts, irresponsible compression of time, mixed up chronology and lack of dramatic build. That aside, Bohemian Rhapsody still entertains and even soars, especially in its last fifteen minutes when director Bryan Singer recreates the 1985 Live Aid concert. Rami Malek, who plays Mercury is amazing here, and although some might call it impersonation, it is a flawless recreation. Often considered one of the best live rock concert performances of all time, the film goes out on a strong note as the group connects with an audience as only Queen could do.
The best parts of this film involve the music: the process of making music, songwriting sessions where things are discovered, and of course the concert footage and of course, Malek’s inspired performance. However much of the story, especially when it deals with Freddie Mercury’s personal life, and his Diva behavior, which often vilifies him, feels like inauthentic filler and not very real. He goes from being a married heterosexual man, to a furtive glance at a truck driver at a rest stop, to drug infused gay promiscuity. These broad strokes and the unrealistic presentation of his personal life somehow imply that he deserved to get AIDS because of his partying. This idea, although never stated, is reinforced by the seemingly saint like behavior of the other band members who all appear to be sedate family men. The press conference where Freddie is grilled about his lifestyle and whether he is worried about contracting it, is odd; as the test for AIDS wasn’t available until 1984, and AIDS awareness in 1982 was not that pervasive. No one would have asked this question. Also, Freddie and Jim Hutton (played by Aaron McCusker) never seem like a real couple and this plot line comes a little late in the film. Furthermore, Freddie is drawn as the bad guy when he wants to do a solo album, and it supposedly breaks up the band. In reality Roger had already done a solo album at this point, and the band continues to tour, seemingly uninterrupted by Mercury's solo effort.
However, Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t the first biopic to fudge facts and time, and there has to be conflict, after all. Luckily none of this takes away from the music, and the revolutionary, still resonant impact of Queen and Freddie Mercury, played brilliantly by Rami Malek. He is perfectly cast and totally inhabits the part. Originally Sacha Baron Cohen was scheduled to play Mercury, but dropped out over creative differences. It’s hard to imagine that now, even though Cohen looks more like Mercury than Malek. Enjoy the performances, enjoy the music and watch a documentary or read a biography if you are that interested in the facts.