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Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Premise: A biographical feature film about the rock band Queen, focusing on Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and his relationship with bandmates Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon (Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello).

What Works: Bohemian Rhapsody is a polished rock-and-roll drama with some impressive performances. The movie largely succeeds because of its cast. Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury and he captures Mercury’s charisma and stage presence. But just as impressive as the bravado are the ways Malek brings humanity and some complexity to a larger-than-life rock and roll icon. Freddie Mercury was a lot of things to a lot of people and this film acknowledges that while keeping him within human dimensions. Malek and the filmmakers allow Mercury flaws and even loneliness. The rest of the core cast is also impressive including Lucy Boynton as Mercury’s partner Mary Austin and Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello as Queen band members Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, respectively. The sequences of the band working together capture the synergy and tension that allowed them to create such unique and enduring work. That’s one of the ways in which Bohemian Rhapsody is distinguished. A lot of these kinds of movies emphasize the creativity of a single person, usually the front man, but Bohemian Rhapsody is about the band as a whole and how they needed each other to be successful. This film also has some exceptional musical performances. The dramatizations of the creative process are fun and reveal some of the band’s unusual recording techniques. The musical sequences are energetic and slickly assembled and capture the connection that Queen established with its audience. Most spectacular is the finale which recreates the band’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert. It is a breathtakingly shot, acted, and edited musical sequence that is a fitting tribute to Mercury and to Queen. 

What Doesn’t: Bohemian Rhapsody is a standard musical biopic. A lot of these films, such as Ray, The Doors, Walk the Line, and Sid & Nancy follow the rags-to-riches-to-rehab formula and Bohemian Rhapsody adheres to the conventional approach to these kinds of show business stories. Virtually every standby of the genre is here from the getting-the-band-together sequences to the sleazy manager character and the drug abuse montage to the final reconciliation. It’s all done well enough but Queen was distinguished by its unconventionality; the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” did not resemble a mainstream radio-friendly single. It still doesn’t. But this movie plays it safe and remains within the comfortable and well-trod conventions of show business narratives. As a result, Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t tell us anything new about Queen or Freddie Mercury. The movie is respectful to Mercury’s memory and to the band’s place in rock history but it doesn’t reveal anything or offer a new perspective.

Bottom Line: Bohemian Rhapsody is not a groundbreaking film by any means but it is a competent and entertaining tribute to Freddie Mercury and to the music of Queen. The film is a finely crafted production that is well acted, especially by Rami Malek, and has at least one exceptional musical sequence.

Episode: #725 (November 11, 2018)