‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Review: Is This Real Life Or Just Fantasy?
The new Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, does an admirable job of telling the band’s story, while concentrating heavily on its larger-than-life front man, Freddie Mercury, played by Rami Malek. But the film takes liberties in certain key points, and misses some important notes for the sake of cinematic storytelling.
The story of Queen itself is unique enough to carry a film, and Bohemian Rhapsody hints upon some of the those reasons. The film shows how the band came together, with Mercury (Malek) being a fan of the first version of the band, Smile, and later replacing their lead singer when he left to join another band. Guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and later, bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) come together with Mercury spearheading the band’s name change and even designing the Queen Crest, which is true.
In fact, Bohemian Rhapsody soars when detailing the little things that makes the band so special. Things like how they used interesting techniques in the studio to create their sound, and the relationships with various record execs, like manager John Reid (Aidan Gillen), and attorney Jim Beach (Tom Hollander), and even some great meetings with Roy Baker (Mike Myers) that leads to one of the best lines in the whole film.
Where Bohemian Rhapsody lacks is in explaining the why. Freddie Mercury is a little silhouette of a man here, as his sexual preferences begin to take over the film in the second act and it stops being a Queen story as it focuses solely on Mercury. This gives Malek the space he needs to really shine in the role, but I wanted more stories and details about why he wrote a song like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” or “Fat Bottomed Girls,” or what was the driving force that led to Queen doing the now legendary soundtrack for the film, Flash Gordon. The latter is not even mentioned. Instead, we see Freddie play the piano opener of “Bohemian Rhapsody” for his girlfriend and later wife, Mary (Lucy Boynton), but there’s no exposition about why he tells that particular story in that particular song.
In fact, Bohemian Rhapsody begins to slide into a by-the-numbers music biopic and its truly a wasted opportunity. The script by Anthony McCarten, based on his and Peter Morgan’s story, circles around these stories and finally settles in on Mercury’s coming out and living life as a gay man. And then certain liberties are taken with the AIDS revelation and Live Aid concert that are historically wrong, and since these are two very defining moments of the band’s history, it didn’t settle too well with me. It’s as if the film’s life had just begun and then they went and threw it all away.
The one saving grace here was the use of “Who Wants to Live Forever” when Freddie learns that he has AIDS. That wrecked me, even though the event and use of the song were both anachronisms. Mercury found out he had AIDS is 1987, and the song “Who Wants to Live Forever” was recorded in 1986, both well after 1985’s Live Aid concert.
I’m not saying that Bohemian Rhapsody is not a good film or a great film. As a fan of the band and its music, I just wanted more. I wanted to see more of Freddie writing lyrics and get into his head. Instead, I got a running gag about the song, “I’m in Love With My Car.” It was incredible to see Brian May (Lee) explain to the band how he wanted to make a song that would allow the audience to participate, which as the ground work for “We Will Rock You,” and how John Deacon (Mazzello) was able to convince the rest of the band that going disco would be okay just by playing a bass line that would become “Another One Bites The Dust.” This is what I wanted to see more of, not montages of stage performances with superimposed titles of cities sliding across the screen, or more of Freddie’s lavish parties that lasted for days on end.
The performances are what sets Bohemian Rhapsody apart, and Malek leads the cast as Freddie Mercury once led the band. Malek is as flamboyant and demanding of your attention as the man he portrays, and this actor, whose claim to fame is TV’s Mr. Robot and as a character in the Until Dawn video game, Malek shows that he’s ready for the big time. And taking nothing away from the ensemble, the rest of the cast does an admirable job from beginning to end, and these performances collectively are worth the price of admission.
I’m a huge fan of Queen, and for most of my childhood, the band and its music was the soundtrack of my early life. Queen was something that my dad and I bonded over as I was growing up. I remember driving around in his 1969 Ford Fairlane listening to cassettes of Queen’s Greatest Hits, both of us signing the songs, me with my pre-puberty child voice able to hit Freddie’s high notes (well, sort of — the man was a vocal god), and my dad singing the lower key notes. Whether we knew it or not, we were harmonizing. That’s where my introduction to music theory began, and this film brought up those memories as clear as day.
Queen was always more than just a rock band. I remember winning my Cub Scout Pinewood Derby and then driving home, with my dad and my brother playing “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” over and over, my brother rewinding the tape after each each play through. These are memories so deeply ingrained in me, and Queen is a big part of them. So, when I say that Queen and the film Bohemian Rhapsody have personal meaning to me, it’s true. And while the film is light on some areas, and misses some great opportunities to expound on some of the mythical things the band did to create their iconic sound, I still enjoyed the film and the story it told. I still got teary eyed at the end and felt the emotions that the filmmakers were going for, even as my brain was telling me that it was all wrong, historically. Because, like a good song, sometimes you just have to listen and not think, and appreciate the artistry at work. Bohemian Rhapsody is not perfect by any stretch, but it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t really matter to me.
Bohemian Rhapsody is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on November 2.
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