The Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is now out in theaters, after some production struggles that included director Bryan Singer being let go, bringing in Dexter Fletcher to wrap up the film’s directorial duties. Starring Rami Malek, Gwylim Lee, Ben Hardy and Joe Mazzello as the legendary band members, it’s had a strong opening. Here’s our review on how the movie turned out.
If I had to pinpoint why Bohemian Rhapsody worked for me, it’s “suspension of disbelief”. I’ve been a Queen fan for well over three decades now, and there’s a lot factually wrong about the movie. And yet, I had a great time watching it and despite its long running time (clocking in at well over two hours) time just flew by.
A large factor in that has to be Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury, who was born Farrokh Bulsara – which is how we meet him in the film as he engages with his family, showing a side of Mercury’s life we’re not too familiar with. Malek does a great job mimicking Mercury’s somewhat awkward speech, and it’s not too much later that we meet Brian May and Roger Taylor, then members of the band Smile.
Smile’s lead singer quits, Mercury takes over, and pretty soon after that John Deacon joins them and the band is renamed Queen. This is where we see Malek’s mastery of all the little moves and gestures that makes Freddie, well…. Freddie. Obviously there’s the teeth, but it’s the on stage persona that is Freddie Mercury that really stands out – get that wrong and the illusion is lost. Malek gets most everything right, including tiny little details that make you think “oh yeah, he used to do that”. The one thing I didn’t really see in the movie was Freddie’s more intense look – Malek generally has a gentler look about him.
The other band members also look the part – from Brian May’s iconic curls to Taylor’s (then) long hair. And, as in real life, they mostly stick to the background, especially on stage, where it’s really Freddie’s show. This is why Malek’s performance is crucial, and part of what makes the film work. Because, when you look at it from a fan’s perspective, there’s a lot wrong about the film, starting with music that’s out of sync with reality.
The film will play songs that weren’t released at the time of the events being portrayed, or will introduce “new” songs even though they’re about three years old at the time. The film also opens and ends with Queen’s Live Aid performance at Wembley, but goes on to suggest that Queen wasn’t originally scheduled to perform. In reality, they were. Also tied in to the Live Aid performance is Freddie confiding with his band members that he in fact has AIDS as they prepare for the performance – something that in reality didn’t happen until later.
I also found the ending to be a bit awkward. When the Live Aid performance wraps up, it pretty much cuts to “and then Freddie died in 1991”. Besides the fact that his AIDS hadn’t even been diagnosed by the time of Live Aid, this also skips over a period during which Queen released songs like “A kind of magic”, “I want it all” and “Innuendo” – the latter of which I consider to be a spiritual successor to Bohemian Rhapsody. If Live Aid is the angle they’re going with then I understand that choice, but it’s an important period in Queen’s history. Besides some excellent music, it’s also the period during which they had to try and hide Mercury’s ailing health from the public eye, as per his wishes. Bohemian Rhapsody alludes to this, but the events don’t line up with what happened in real life.
And yet, I had a blast. I’ve talked about Malek’s performance already, but the real star is Queen’s music. Sure, it’s a little out of place and time here and there, but it’s spread out across the entire movie because of it. And that means you’re listening to amazing music for about two and half hours, with a flawed biography in between. The music is mostly Freddie/Queens’s original vocals, with additional voice work by Malek and Marc Martel. Because of that, this is 134 minutes of top notch musical entertainment. Would I have enjoyed watching Queen’s “Live at Wembley” release on a Dolby Atmos-enabled screen just as well? Probably so, but I did enjoy the performances by Malek, Lee, Hardy and Mazzello a lot. Even if the script doesn’t do history justice, their performances do.