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Josh Reviews Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury.  We follow Freddie all the way from when he was a nobody, working at an airport hauling luggage, through Queen’s meteoric rise, and on to his early death of AIDs at age 45.  I’d read a lot about this film last year; I’d heard it was a solid film, despite all the behind-the-scenes turmoil of its making (in which credited director Bryan Singer was apparently removed from the film late in production, with the film completed by Dexter Fletcher).

I quite enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody!  Freddie Mercury has a very interesting life story; he’s a great subject for a film.  I had no idea, for example, that his real name was, Farrokh Bulsara, and that his family were Indian Zoroastrians!

This film succeeds primarily because of Rami Malek’s exuberant, exhilarating performance as Freddie Mercury.  Mr. Malek’s passion for this character and this project really shows through.  Freddie Mercury was such a unique figure, with such a distinct voice, that I’d have thought it’d be an enormous challenge to portray him on film, and yet Mr. Malek thoroughly inhabits Mr. Mercury on screen.  It’s quite astounding, doubly so because Mr. Malek (despite the fake teeth and various hairstyles used in the film) doesn’t really look much of anything like Mr. Mercury.  And yet, he FEELS like Mr. Mercury.  Mr. Malek is incredibly magnetic on screen.  This is a full-throated, movie-star caliber performance.  I have been a fan of Mr. Malek’s ever since his strong work in the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks miniseries The Pacific; but this work is several large steps above above anything I have ever seen him do before.

This film is packed with so much fun music.  They have done a great job weaving a ton of classic Queen songs into the film, beautifully recreated by the cast.  When we hear Freddie sing in the film, it’s apparently a collaboration between Rami Malek and singer Marc Martel.  The result is really great!  This is one of the most impressive aspects of Mr. Malek’s overall performance.

The film culminates in a lengthy recreation of Queen’s 1985 performance at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium.  This sequence is a bit indulugent (it’s longer than in needs to be), but I can easily forgive that indulgence because the sequence has been so skillfully created.  The filmmakers clearly went to a lot of trouble and expense to mount this recreation of this enormous live concert.  The film’s cast/band is at the top of their game, brilliantly recreating this iconic Queen performance.  It’s a joyous, exhilarating conclusion to the film.

My main complaint about Bohemian Rhapsody is that it sticks rather closely to the usual musical biopic formula.  The first half of the film charts the artist’s ascent to stardom, full of fun and joy, while the second half charts the artist’s descent into addiction, self-absorbtion, and alienation from friends and co-workers.  The second half of these sorts of films is always a lot less fun, and that’s true here in Bohemian Rhapsody.  I understand why these types of films use this structure, but I bristle at the predictability of it.  (I had the same complaint about Rocketman, the Elton John biopic which I also saw recently.)

The supporting cast is strong.  I quite enjoyed the work of the actors/performers who portrayed the other three members of Queen: Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Queen’s lead guitarist; Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer; and Joe Mazzello as John Deacon, Queen’s bass guitarist.  These three men are a major part of Queen’s story — it’s not only about Freddie Mercury — and so I’m glad that all three characters got a lot of screen time and development in the film.

Entertaining in supporting roles are Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Game of Thrones) is as Queen’s manager John Reid; Tom Hollander (Mowgli, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) as Jim “Miami” Beach, Queen’s lawyer; an almost unrecognizable Mike Myers as Ray Foster, the EMI executive who balks at releasing the lengthy, weird song Bohemian Rhapsody; and Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, who is Freddie’s fiancee until he realizes that he is gay.

I’m glad that Freddie’s sexuality was a part of the story, without the film’s ever winding up feeling too overwrought or sensationalized.  The HIV/AIDs crisis also enters the story in the later part of the film, and the film handles those scenes sensitively.  Those are sad sequences; but it’s important to be reminded of this devastating affliction from not-so-long ago.  (Though the film’s treatment of the AIDs crisis pales next to what I saw on season three of The Deuce — my full review of the final season of David Simon & George Pelecanos’ HBO show will be coming soon.)

If you’re looking for a film that will throw off the shackles of the standard beats of a conventional muscial bio-pic, then look elsewhere. But I nevertheless found much to enjoy in Bohemian Rhapsody.  I’m glad to have seen it.

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