One could say this Queen movie could’ve been made in the time it takes any other to be, had the Freddie Mercury movie not taken eight years. Bohemian Rhapsody is both things.
Given the mythic-like stature of the band’s legendary lead singer in popular culture, there was immense pressure not to get the casting of Mercury wrong — an inverse to the alternative (getting it right), purposely written here. On top of that, there was significant skepticism about telling the right story of him; after all, there were many parts to the icon. Mercury, who died of AIDS in 1991, is universally regarded as one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music; however, he was also the subject of intense media prying focused on his sexual orientation and rumored wild, if irresponsible, private life.
Originally, actor Sacha Baron Cohen was tabbed for the role and a different filmmaker was picked to direct, though neither lasted the course. Rumors put it that those two creatives had one idea about a darker, more risqué Mercury-centric biopic, which Bohemian Rhapsody still somewhat is, while band members Brian May and Roger Taylor and long-time manager Jim Beach, overseeing it as executive directors and rights holders, had broader visions of the film. Their version was Queen’s story, and it’s what this film ultimately becomes once Cohen and the first director were ousted. Sure, those who intimately knew Mercury* had emotional investment into how the story was framed, but it’s not as if they demanded Mercury’s private life (and its influence on him publicly) be ignored.
(*Makes you wonder if Mary Austin had any input or, if not, what she thought of the film.)
Bohemian Rhapsody follows Queen’s assent* all the way to Live Aid in 1985 — Mercury’s final live show, and his most renowned.
(*Outside of Mercury’s raging parties, it doesn’t very clearly illustrate how famous the band had become to someone who doesn’t already know.)
Mercury’s private life told therein is a bit cringeworthy. It’s comes off kind of as an alternative personality to the man and in moments of mistreating people and selfishness, it makes your teeth grind. It’s enough to capture the divisiveness of that side of him. I wouldn’t wish for a two-hour movie all about it, as it was originally written to be (or so it sounds like), because while it’s not enough to make you totally hate him, it’s enough to reasonably assess that he was not an easy person to be around. Even if that’s accurate, it’s not what I want out of the movie.
Always reeling the focus back into Queen and their music is what’s best for the film*, and that’s when it’s at its absolute best. This is a great concert movie, a must-see from inside the big, surround sound cineplexes in your town, the most entertained I’ve been at the theater in a while.
(*I now have a newly discovered appreciation for their hit, “Seven Seas of Rhye,” because of this movie. Specifically, the effect that happens at the 1:08 mark of the song.)
Possibly Cohen was too focused on portraying darker, private aspects of Mercury that it perturbed the observant producers, but not Rami Malek, who ended up with the role. With him, there’s an almost-scientific interest in stage performance — to portray that part of the singer that made him beloved. That, combined with reaching into Mercury’s emotional psyche, maybe earns Malek some award-season nominations later this year. It’d be warranted.
But no matter if it’s on stage or one of the many scenes inside the studio, Bohemian Rhapsody taps into Queen’s genius — Mercury’s keen ear to mix tracks, May inventing stadium anthems, Taylor’s high notes on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” bassist Joe Deacon fighting for “Another One Bites the Dust,” and much more.
The film presents the Live Aid gig almost in full and its brilliant. The sound reverberates within you, like you’re watching it live. If you go watch the real thing, this portrayal cares for every details, down to how Freddie interacts plays with the cameraman on stage. What it adds is little checks — over to Taylor, to May, to Deacon, to see them practically watching Mercury in awe while their muscle memory keeps the beat of what they’re supposed to be doing with their instrument. And at the end of the set, they go to the front of the stage to bow, knowing, in that moment, it’s probably the last time any of them will every do that with their lead singer, and that packs an emotional punch. But just being a witness to his greatness, to their greatness, is just what the doctor ordered. Don’t overthink it.
Bohemian Rhapsody: ★★★