Bohemian Rhapsody is the biopic pick about one of rocks greatest front men. Freddy Mercury, born Farokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, was one of the rock ‘n roll gods of the 1970s and, as lead singer of the trail-blazing group Queen, frequently crossed the boundaries of musical style, wardrobe preferences, and sexual proclivities. This flamboyant performer was the ultimate stage animal and his four-octave vocal range was unrivaled in the pop music scene of his era. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the genre-busting six-minute (!) song that catapulted Queen to rock immortality and, eventually, gave the group its freedom to write iconic anthems like “Another One Bites The Dust” and “We Are The Champions.”
The film opens and concludes with scenes from their “reunion” appearance (they never broke up in real life) during the 1985 Live Aid benefit at Wembley Stadium as Freddy (Rami Malek) nails what was purported to be his final live performance (it was not). In between, we get a somewhat revisionist biopic of a superstar and his group that began rather modestly as a bar band and hit the big time when one of their early studio tapes made its way to the offices of giant label EMI Records. Mercury has a live-in girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) while his other band members lead guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) eventually settled for more conventional domestic lives. An unrecognizable Mike Myers plays EMI record exec Ray Foster who takes a huge gamble on the overly long title single, largely due to its emphatic support from Queen manager John Reid (Aiden Gillen) and lawyer (and later manager) Jim “Miami” Beach (Tom Hollander).
As Queen achieves massive success, Freddy becomes estranged from his traditionalist Farsi father Bomi (Ace Bhatti) and mother Jer (Meneka Das). Constantly on tour, Freddy grows apart from Mary and his interest in other men begin to emerge. Eventually, under the influence of road manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), Freddy reluctantly gives up Mary for a boatload of meaningless male lovers. His promiscuity eventually becomes his undoing as he acquires HIV/AIDS which, at that time, was an incurable and ultimately fatal infection. Prenter causes Reid to be fired, continues to encourage Freddy’s debauchery, and, after Freddy has kicked him out of their ostentatious home, does a “tell-all” on British network television.
Rami Malek, fitted with a facial prosthesis, delivers a stunning performance in Bohemian Rhapsody that should get Oscar buzz and is ably backed up by his three band mates who like Malek are made up to resemble their real-life counterparts. While most of the music on the soundtrack is real Queen, the actors who take on their respective roles effectively create the illusion that they are actually making the sounds that we hear on the big screen, the result of months of intense training. This film was in development for nearly a decade, survived the firing of director Bryan Singer in the final months of shooting, and was fortunately bailed out by his replacement Dexter Fletcher. A great strength of this motion picture is the “you are there” cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel that puts the audience right on stage with Queen during their numerous rock concert segments. Outside of the final Wembley scene that features hokey cut-aways to Mary and Freddy’s current boyfriend Jim Hutton (Aaron McClusker), perhaps an acknowledgment of the past and present, this film gets all of its visual elements right including the spot-on capture of the main protagonist’s personal excesses.
While there has been outspoken criticism of the depiction of Freddy Mercury’s homosexuality and the dismissive treatment of his long-time girlfriend Mary Austin, overall, Bohemian Rhapsody succeeds in recreating the zeitgeist of the often-outrageous musical scene of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. If you don’t leave the theater, singing “We Are The Champions” refrain, your heart probably stopped sometime before the film’s second act. Highly recommended.
Bohemian Rhapsody is in wide release in theaters November 12, 2018 (USA)
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