July 15, 2020

“Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) Review: Doing a Legend Justice

Note: This review was originally published in The Cape Cod Chronicle in December 2018.

Queen is one of the most recognizable names in the music industry — they have brought to life such classic songs as “We Are the Champions,” “Killer Queen,” and, of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Every member of the band is still alive except for Freddie Mercury, who was the lead vocalist, and one of the most flamboyant performers the world has ever seen. He died at the age of 45 from the AIDs epidemic of the late 20th century, and his story has been immortalized in the biopic, also titled Bohemian Rhapsody.

The film introduces us to Freddie (born Farrokh Bulsara), portrayed by the multi-faceted Rami Malek, who joins a band called Smile alongside guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello), which becomes the band that we all know and love over a well-paced montage near the beginning of the film. Freddie struggles balancing his rock star life with the relationship with the “love of his life,” Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), and later, his realization of his sexuality. Throughout, the cast performs different Queen songs, with both archive recordings and the actors themselves bringing the music to life, culminating in a near-perfect recreation of Queen’s famous performance at the Live Aid concert in July 1985.

Bohemian Rhapsody knows what it wants to be, and it largely succeeds in its goal: it is a thoroughly enjoyable view into the life of one of the greatest rock legends who ever lived, and packs a well-timed emotional punch that is only vastly improved by the skill of its cast. Rami Malek gives a career-defining performance as Freddie Mercury, filled with charisma, charm and a certain furtive aspect that gives the audience a true taste of what a private man Mercury was in real life. Of course, I’d be lying if I said Malek was the only incredible performance in the film: every member of the core quartet absolutely nails their roles; Allen Leech plays Paul Prenter, Freddie’s personal manager, who is an antagonistic character in the film but also one of the most intriguing; Game of Thrones alum Aiden Gillen plays John Reid, Queen’s manager who you’re almost positive is up to something every time he’s on screen (Gillen simply has that disposition).

One of my only discrepancies with Bohemian Rhapsody is that most of what is shown in the film happened completely differently in real life; for example, in the film, Freddie joins the band Smile after their lead singer quits in pursuit of a promising career, at a bar performance that Freddie just happens to be attending, while in real life, Brian May and Roger Taylor were rooming with Freddie when they initially formed the band. However, I have to give the film credit for the way these events are dramatized; they’re obviously stylized for cinema, and I respect that, largely because they succeeded in what they were trying to achieve.

While existing fans of Queen are sure to enjoy this masterpiece, it may be difficult for newcomers to adjust to their style and the format of this film; while the movie does its best to explain everything that happens, there is definitely a different level of enjoyment in viewers of this film who are and aren’t Queen listeners. [Grade: A]

Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, Joseph Mazzello, Ben Hardy, Lucy Boynton, Aiden Gillen
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language
Available: Hulu
Fun Fact: Rami Malek was fitted with special prosthetic teeth to recreate Freddie's prominent overbite. After filming wrapped, Malek kept the teeth as a memento from the shoot, eventually having them cast in gold.

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