Singing publicly since I was seven, I’ve always had a love for music. That love for music truly blossomed when I became an early teen and used the money I earned as a paperboy to buy CDs. In those early days of MP3, I preferred to obtain my tunes on albums I purchased, and my collection grew over time to become fairly large, as my parents could attest. While I bought many used, the first CD I recall buying early-on in brand-new condition was on a MathCounts state competition trip in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and my sponsor obliged me on free time in taking me to Sam Goody at one of the malls there. I had a single album in mind, and I left there with my target in tow: a burgundy and gold colored Greatest Hits. It looked absolutely regal, appropriately. I removed the cellophane and looked at the distinctive logo emblazoned on the front: Queen. I placed the CD in my Walkman, and it didn’t leave for days.
An eclectic collection, to be sure, it was by no-means enough for me. Over time, I not only collected more of their albums, but I came to deeply admire a band that continues to feel one-of-a-kind. When you hear Roger Taylor‘s drums, John Deacon‘s bass, Brian May‘s guitar, and Freddie Mercury‘s vocals cut across on a track, it really does sound like nothing else. After Mercury‘s death in the early nineties, the surviving band members have only performed occasionally, and that’s been out of respect to Mercury. Still, it’s also done because he cannot be replicated. With his voice and their musicianship, Queen truly exceeds the sum of its parts.
A few years back, word was all over Hollywood that a biopic of Mercury and the band was in development. Early on, Sasha Baron Cohen was attached to star as Farrokh Bulsara (or as he came to be known by the world, Freddie Mercury), and the project began to rocket ahead. I became nervous when Cohen abruptly left the project, citing that May and Taylor of Queen, serving as executive producers and ultimately granting approval on the film, didn’t see eye-to-eye with the story he wanted to be a part of: a darker, grittier, and ultimately more personal film than we ultimately get with what I review here. His vacating of the lead role made room in time for Rami Malek of Mr. Robot fame. With an established director like Bryan Singer at the helm, nothing more could go wrong…right? Well, close to the end of filming, Singer was reportedly fired from the project due to not showing up after a family health emergency. Dexter Fletcher (director of criminally-underwatched Eddie The Eagle and the upcoming Elton John biopic, Rocketman) was hired to complete production uncredited, and now against all odds, we somehow have a finished film to review. How did it turn out as a film and as a tribute to one of the greatest front-men in music history?
It was absolutely incredible. From its opening moments building a lead-up to the band’s now legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985 through to its closing scenes, I was fully wrapped up in everything on screen. My love of this film stems mainly on Rami Malek‘s incredible resurrection of the spirit of Freddie Mercury. The voice, mannerisms, and swagger are all there (as well as those distinctive teeth), and as a fan of the band, he brought a man who died when I was still a young boy back to life. It’s a performance that is hypnotizing to watch and amazing to realize that it is so outside of Malek‘s normal self, as he has recounted in interviews. People can quibble over his eyes not being dark like Mercury, but his performance, nonetheless, moved me to tears. The closing moments of the movie make up one of the greatest special effects sequences I can recall, and it doesn’t involve earth-shattering destruction or roaring dinosaurs. No, it is a pitch-perfect remaking of that incredible Live Aid set. I’ve re-watched that original concert footage, and the people making this film meticulously brought that day back to existence, roaring crowds and all as the world watched.
The film takes us through Mercury’s early adulthood, meeting the band mates (played by Gwilym Lee as May, Ben Hardy as Taylor, and Joe Mazzello as Deacon), coming under the management of John Reid (Aiden Gillen), Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), and Jim Beach (Tom Hollander), and taking the world by storm. The film also focuses on Mercury‘s relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and its ups-and-downs amidst his struggle with coming to grips with homosexuality. I paint the plot in broad strokes typically in my reviews, and this film does so as well, in regards to the details of the lives shown. There are even some known liberties it takes with how and when it presents facts about the band, but everything in the film falls into place when it needs to for the film, even if things are shifted around in the actual timeline of the band. There is a lot of ground to cover in its run time, but the film truly rockets forward with a palpable energy that builds alongside the sights and sounds of it all. What it needs to show to depict the uniqueness of the band and their methods is all there, and everything is handled very economically. Is it going to go down as the most accurate biopic? Probably not (considering it makes room for a great “meta” cameo by Wayne Campbell himself, Mike Myers, as a fictional producer), but it says a lot that the narrative is as enjoyable as it is with the right song in the band’s discography coming in at just the right time.
Imagine my surprise after watching the film to read of many critics panning this film? I don’t know where many find fault. Maybe, it’s pacing? Maybe, it’s the way it deals with aspects of Mercury‘s personal life? Maybe, they saw a mishmash of directorial influence due to the shakeup behind the scenes (I didn’t, and I commend Fletcher for finishing)? Maybe, they just don’t like Queen (believe it or not, some don’t)? Regardless, I find that this film rises above most music biopics, because it’s fun, funny, and finds focus on the particular energies that made the band special in the first place. I mean the opening production card for 20th Century Fox screams out with that familiar tune played by Brian May‘s distinctive guitar licks. It’s a film that celebrates a life and those involved in it as it entertains. The filmmakers (wisely) utilize Mercury‘s vocals throughout, and we never tire of hearing that wide range. Meticulous recreation is the specialty here, and anytime the band is at work on-screen, it mirrors what rock history shows us of Queen. It’s all amazingly entertaining.
Content-wise, with the film’s box-office success, it catapults it to the most successful film focused on an LGBTQ+ character, as of this writing. What that means is that there are many audience members who may be seeing homosexual relationships on-screen for the first time. While the life of Mercury was decadent the world over, the film alludes to more than it shows. A film that has that much attention on sexual dalliances, regardless of a person’s sexual preference, would lead me to caution anyone planning on taking their children. I personally wouldn’t endorse a child seeing it for these reasons. Violent content is non-existent, if I recall correctly, but there is language (fairly mild with the exception of one use of the F-word). Drug use is alluded to in some scenes, as well. The Bible expresses much of the lifestyle shown on-screen to be sinful, but the film does show us glimpses of a life who impacted many and understanding behind many choices made. Regardless of how one views sin in the world, I think we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the lives of people in this world are worthy of reflection, no matter their choices. In light of this, viewers should show caution to their own personal convictions about the film and its content.
All-in-all, I found Bohemian Rhapsody to be an energetic celebration of Queen and their one-of-a-kind frontman, Freddie Mercury. The impeccable artistry behind recreating their performance at Live-Aid was worth admission alone, and Rami Malek‘s portrayal of Mercury should garner well-deserved awards acclaim. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most enjoyable biopics I’ve ever watched. Just like the band, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if it is yours, it is most excellent.
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