Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody hits many familiar notes and plot points as it explores the great showman that was Freddie Mercury and his iconic band Queen. There’s strain in his family – his actual one and the one that consists of his band mates. There’s the rise to fame and corruption of it. We have relationships strained to the point of apparent breakdown before reconciliation. Truth be told, many of these story arcs are so well-worn that you may feel you already know the words to them in the screenplay before they’re spoken.
However, it manages to succeed in a couple of meaningful ways. More than most music biopics, Rhapsody often captures the sheer magic that was Mercury. In the performance of Rami Malek, we have more than a fine impersonation (with the assistance of fake teeth). His work here captures the magnetism that Queen’s front man had. Additionally, the film builds its tale around their music that culminates in a Live Aid set that plays like a phoenix rising through the ashes.
We first meet the awkward looking Freddie handling luggage at Heathrow in London. He’s shy to a point, but also brimming with confidence in his vocal abilities as he rightly should. Freddie takes advantage of a lead singer opening in the band Smile and dubs it Queen. The rest, as they say, is history.
Regarding that history, Rhapsody has taken its licks for alternating some of the band’s timeline and events. It’s fair criticism, but the aim here is more of a celebration of the tracks that Mercury, Brian Ferry (Gwilym Lee, who nails the guitarist’s look and stance), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) create. Segments are featured around the title track, “We Will Rock You”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. Freddie’s relationship with Mary (Lucy Boynton) is chronicled through the creation of “Love of My Life”. She’s his one-time fiancee who realizes his homosexuality perhaps before he does. Yet their bond is stronger than the physical.
The screenplay from Anthony McCarten also delves into the group’s business dealings. There’s a cheeky scene about the release of “Rhapsody” that allows Mike Myers (as a very 1970s looking record exec) to reference his famous head banging scene in Wayne’s World. We see the hangers-on that nearly deep six the band. Contrary to early reports, we do glimpse Freddie’s promiscuity and substance abuse and eventual AIDS diagnosis.
It’s not the movie’s nature to go too far down that rabbit hole. If you are expecting that, you may walk away disappointed. I walked away impressed by its achievement in capturing what made Freddie and his musical family so special. I didn’t walk away sensing any of the well-publicized behind the scenes drama that resulted in director Singer being replaced well into the shooting schedule by Dexter Fletcher. And I certainly left marveling at Malek’s commitment in bringing Freddie to the screen, with the loud and gorgeous sounds of his live performance in front of a billion plus people ringing in my ears.
*** (out of four)