This Isn't the Real Life: Bohemian Rhapsody
Like the song or not, music fans will say that there are few tunes have been as unique as the 1975 Queen hit "Bohemian Rhapsody." It goes from ballad to rocker to opera in a span of just under six minutes. The song has, in any case, become one of the most beloved songs in rock history. The movie of the same name covers the band over the course of fifteen years, primarily focusing on Queen's lead singer, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek). Bohemian Rhapsody begins in 1970, when Farrokh "Freddie" Bulsara was an airport baggage handler in London who spends his free time enjoying some of the local music. He like others, liked the band Smile, a band that featured guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). At a Smile concert, Freddie meets Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), and soon become a couple. When Freddie gets an opportunity to meet Brian and Roger, he pitches some song ideas to them. They have a different idea, as their lead singer had just quit. They like the songs and test his voice, which leads them to offer him a spot in the band. Freddie accepts, and bring aboard John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) to play base. They also change their name to Queen, at Freddie's suggestion. Freddie also adopts Mercury as his stage name. Queen soon gets the attention of record companies, and they land a recording deal.
Their initial releases become modest successes, but it takes a couple of years for the band to have a big chart hit in the US. John Reid (Aidan Gillen) becomes their manager, while Jim Beach (Tom Hollander) handles their legal affairs. Freddie and Mary get engaged, and start to live together. While on the road, though, Freddie starts to have feelings for his personal manager, Paul Prentner (Allen Leech). These encounters don't go unnoticed by Mary on his return. Difficulties also arise with their label as they record their fourth album, A Night At The Opera. They deliver the finished product to label executive Ray Foster (Mike Myers), who steadfastly insists the album won't be a hit. The band then sneaks a recording of "Bohemian Rhapsody" to the radio, where listener response is overwhelmingly positive. Queen takes their act to another label, and have their biggest success to date. With success, though, come tensions. John gets fired, and Jim takes over as manager. Mary leaves Freddie, who also loses Paul in all capacities. A solo deal for Mercury proves unrewarding, who makes a new deal with his band mates to keep Queen from disintegrating. Health issues, though, sideline Freddie for a time, but the band aims for in a return in time for the Live Aid show.
I understand that biopics of any sort will take liberties with the lives of their subjects. The Buddy Holly Story, for example, renamed the other Crickets who weren't Holly, and omitted one member all together. The film, though, was a very pleasing and energetic one, in spite of all of the changes. The same, however, cannot be said about Bohemian Rhapsody, which takes too many liberties with the band history. I'm not a big fan of Queen, but fans familiar with their songs know that "Another One Bites The Dust" did not come before "We Will Rock You." They'd also know that Mercury never pursued a solo career. The biggest sin here is that director Bryan Singer, who was fired during the filming, gave this movie the feel of a procedural. This is a biopic by the numbers. The screenplay comes from Anthony McCarten, who fared much better with the screen treatments of The Theory Of Everything and Darkest Hour. Bohemian Rhapsody focuses too much on Mercury, and not enough on everyone else around him. The music, though, captures the best of Queen's efforts during the Mercury era.
The music and Malek's performance fare best here. Like Busey did as Buddy Holly, Malek absorbs the essence of Freddie Mercury. He is the flashiest dresser and the mannerisms that make people know he's the voice of Queen. He even gives Jim the nickname Miami, as the singer though his given name too ordinary. When he buys a big home and throws a party, he hosts in regal garb. In private, Malek shows the conflict of Mercury, who tells Mary he's bisexual. Mary knows differently, though she still loves Freddie in a way. Their new understanding helps Freddie try and track down Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), whom he'd met at a party where Jim served as a part of the catering staff. Best of all, Malek looks very much like the late vocalist. The other noteworthy performance comes from Boynton, who is a faithful and patient Mary. She stands by Freddie as best she can as he learns who he is.
I'm one of many who grew up loving rock music, especially the early decades of the genre. I have a few Queen albums, including A Night At The Opera. I enjoy a good music film, but I grow more disappointed than usual when a biopic like Bohemian Rhapsody hits the screen. It is a reflection of one of the interests I have had in life, and I wish it had made a better impression for viewers of this time and for those in the future who will take interest in this picture. Malek does his part to honor the memory of Freddie Mercury, but the rest of the film doesn't have the same spirit. It's a cinematic record with more than a few skips in it.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Bohemian Rhapsody two stars. This is too much fantasy.
Bohemian Rhapsody trailer
© 2018 Pat Mills