“Bohemian Rhapsody” Movie Review


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     The challenges surrounding the production of a musical biopic are daunting enough, particularly when the story centers on a beloved rock band like Queen.  But amidst a chaotic change in the director’s chair before filming was concluded, “Bohemian Rhapsody” still manages to be an entertaining, if not an engaging story about the 1970s rise of the venerable groups’s stardom and the often turbulent life of their lead singer, Freddie Mercury, played here with a game performance by a brilliant Rami Malek.  “X-Men” and “The Usual Suspects” director Bryan Singer began at the helm, but was let go before shooting was completed due to unexplained absences and rumored tension between him and Malek.  Fortunately, unlike other recent troubled productions, his replacement, Dexter Fletcher, who is currently directing next summer’s Elton John biopic “Rocketman”, finished the film while ensuring Singer’s established tone remained intact, avoiding the kind of disaster that could’ve ruined the experience entirely.

     The screenplay, written by “Darkest Hour” and “The Theory of Everything” scribe Anthony McCarten, follows the band in what is generally a by the numbers presentation of their humble beginnings, through a meteoric rise to the top, and finally the inevitable egos that come into play when the lead singer decides to go solo.  The structure is not unlike 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton” in that the early acts focus on the experimental side of the band’s creation of its most well known and classic songs, in particular the one which gives the film its title.  And while the flamboyant life of Freddie Mercury remains a constant from scene to scene, what becomes abundantly clear is the fact the filmmakers set out to make a crowdpleaser honoring the songs and performances of Queen, rather than focusing on the tragic story of their lead singer.

     Early in the film, we meet Freddie (Rami Malek) during his early years in which his family sees him as an outcast who doesn’t quite fit the mold they had foreseen for him growing up.  He does; however have a talent for writing songs and after watching a band perform at a local club, decides to introduce himself and his abilities to the group who had just coincidentally lost their lead singer.  That band, known as Smile, included Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), both of which along with Mercury are the three original members of Queen.  It isn’t long before the group establishes themselves within the local scene, as they are quickly scooped up by their first mangers, John Reid (Aidan Gillen) and Jim Beach (Tom Hollander).  And with their early music a hit with audiences and record labels, a fictional executive named Ray Foster (Mike Myers) sends the group into seclusion for the production of their next album.

     Problem is, after months of recording, Foster hates the resulting title track, Bohemian Rhapsody, for a number of reasons but most obviously because it breaks the mold of a song playable on radio by clocking in at a then unheard of six minutes.  Of course, we already know the level of success the band would achieve from that point, with a countless number of hits rocking the air waves throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, leading to the film’s culminating re-creation of their set at 1985’s Live Aid.  In between, there is no end to the drama depicted amongst the main cast of characters, including the revelation by Freddie to his long time girlfriend, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), that he is bi-sexual and no longer wanted to remain in a straight relationship with her.  The exploration of these aspects of Mercury’s life indicates a lonely individual who doesn’t share the necessary things in common with his bandmates that would facilitate the kind of friendships he could count on in a time of need.  Instead, he fills his time throwing lavish parties without the company of those closest to him, resulting in a man who often feels empty and unloved.

     If you read up on the events depicted in “Bohenian Rhapsody”, you’ll find the screenwriters took a number of liberties in the order of which many of the events in the film are presented.  As an example, we are meant to believe, likely because of the emotional wallop it delivers, that Mercury received his diagnosis prior to Live Aid, which in the film serves as a springboard for the band reuniting when in actuality they never broke up in the first place.  But then again, telling the story of a band like Queen inside of two hours was bound to require a number of liberties in order to make the whole thing work.  And it certainly does, especially if you view the film through a lens that allows you to sing along and marvel at the set pieces constructed by the filmmakers which once again bring to life many of the band’s most iconic songs and moments.  It’s also fun to note the initial reactions of these supposed record executives who shunned the out of the box creativity Queen possessed that was responsible for their signature sound and constant reinvention which allowed them to remain relevant for so long.  As musical biopics go, “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t take a lot of risks, but it also doesn’t necessarily have to when the subject matter is bursting at the seams with the kind of entertainment we crave and want to hear over and over again.  And I’m certain Wayne and Garth would approve. GRADE: B