In a biopic about a man like Freddie Mercury and a band like Queen, who dominated the late 70’s and 80’s with hits like “We Are The Champions”, “We Will Rock You”, and “Another One Bites The Dust”, you expect a visual and musical extravaganza. For the most part, we get that. It’s when the movie takes liberties with Queen’s history and how it underdeveloped certain scenes that leave one walking out of the theatre wanting more.
Bohemian Rhapsody opens up with a detailed display of tension. It’s July 1985 and Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) is making his way from his house to the stage before Queen’s performance at the Live Aid concert while “Somebody to Love” plays throughout the intro. We get quick snippets, filled with close ups and behind the back shots, of what this man will become as he makes his way from his house to the stage before flashing back to 1970. Here we find a quiet, goofy Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury’s real name, a design student who just wants to rock, despite the dissatisfaction of his Parsi parents (Meneka Das and Ace Bhatti). The contrast between Mercury’s traditional past and glamorous future is one that I found to be intriguing but it seemed glossed over throughout the movie and, like other parts of this movie, left me less satisfied then I hoped for.
We are then introduced to the rest of the band at a university gig when drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) lose their lead singer allowing Mercury the opportunity to audition. After showing May and Taylor his singing ability they immediately bring him into the band while also adding bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzell) and solidifying the band that we would one day know as Queen.
This begins the classic three-act structure we’ve seen in movies throughout this genre. The first act consist of the creation and rise to fame that Queen goes through, but it felt almost too easy. Where was the real conflict or dilemmas happening to Mercury or the band? I will say, the scenes where they show Queen making their first album and when they are recording Bohemian Rhapsody are some of the most entertaining parts of the film. Showing the chaotic work environment behind the creation of some of these legendary songs works so well for the screen. From the band rushing around the record studio, getting their hands on any instrument they could find in order to sound more “experimental”, to watching Hardy try time and time again to create that high pitch “MAMMA MIA” voice that has become such a trademark for Bohemian Rhapsody. I loved seeing the band dynamic and being reminded that, although Mercury was the star, everyone in the band contributed to what made Queen, QUEEN.
Director Dexter Fletcher, known for directing “Eddie the Eagle” and “Sunshine on Leith”, adds plenty of nuance to the film after taking over for director Bryan Singer. For example, Mike Myers, who played EMI record executive Ray Foster, shows how the director took liberties with Queen’s history. I had to double take when Myers first appeared on screen, decked out in a perm, short unkept beard and Hawaiian shirt. His conflict with Mercury and Queen is brief when he criticizes Bohemian Rhapsody for being way to long to be seen as a single on their album in which Queen replies with firing him on the spot and releasing it anyway. But even with Myers telling the band that no one would listen to the song, Queen still comes out on top. Adding to their smooth and easy transition into stardom that comes off just a tad to unrealistic.
Although the act structure covers the bands rise and fall, with the predictable redemption at the end, this is still a movie about Mercury and his struggle to fit in as an outcast in the rock and roll world.
Rami Malek embodies the flare, confidence and creativity that made Mercury a legend while also showing his struggle with his own identity and sexuality. From his cloths, to his facial expressions that express joy while his eyes show his inner pain while trying to balance his heterosexual marriage, was interesting. It left a lot off the table in regards to Mercury’s lifestyle after his marriage and his breakup with Queen. We get a few scenes where they suggest the kind of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll lifestyle Mercury was living but it always tended to pull back in order to not imply too much. This may have been because of the PG-13 rating, or for respect of the band, but either way, it just felt like they didn’t delve deep enough into this area of his life. This makes the reveal of him being diagnosed with AIDs a little less impactful then I initially hoped for.
For all the missed opportunities in the film, it still entertains. Any scene where Malek is singing and dancing or the band was playing was able capture the audience and allow them to imagine that they were actually at a Queen concert. The soundtrack was also amazing with Queen’s greatest hits. The ending in particular was a heavy hitter, as we come full circle back to Live Aid and Queen behind stage with a mentally healthier Mercury.
Bohemian Rhapsody overall delivers with it’s music but fails with it’s story, with Malek bringing an outstanding performance to a a screenplay that tends to gloss over and fast forward through important moments in Mercury and Queen’s history. It has its moments, like when they are creating these massive songs like “Another One Bites the Dust” and “We Will Rock You” that are such fun cinematic experiences but it fails to add anything to Mercury and Queen’s story that hasn’t already been told.
If you want a fun movie with a killer soundtrack see this film now, on the big screen but as I stepped out of the theatre afterwards, all I could think about is how I just wanted more.