My Take – This year marks the 27 year death anniversary of Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the band Queen. Yet his legacy continues to soar towards astronomical heights and beyond. Often considered as the greatest front man to hit rock n roll, his legend continues to surpass his time into the current generation thanks to some very memorable songs. As a result, it comes as no surprise that he is finally receiving an official biopic backed by a major studio and his former band mates.
Despite languishing in development limbo for years, with various attached stars (mainly Sasha Baron Cohen), followed by the controversy around the film’s director Bryan Singer, who found himself fired from the production during its final stages following his #MeToo allegations, it’s quite a miracle how the film came out looking as it did, with the help of director Dexter Fletcher (credited as executive producer), who handled the final weeks of filming. However, unlike Queen’s music which was never known as conventional or formulaic, as the band experimented with everything from rock to opera and disco, this highly anticipated biopic has been unfortunately being accused by the critics for being formulaic and conventional. The critics have cited that this Bryan Singer directed film shamefully follows the standard line of many music based biopics by trying to cram in as much of the band’s history as conceivably possible in its 133 minute run time.
But as you can witness from its IMDB rating and Cinema Score along with its box office performance ($286.3 million worldwide as of now), the audience clearly has accepted what the film clearly set out to be, i.e. to capture the essence of the legend and not the man. And in that case, this larger-than-life big-screen spectacle wholeheartedly leaps off the screen and smacks you in the face with its unholy energy, as it covers 15 years of Queen’s rise and comeback, all the while also being a concert as much as a biopic especially while showcasing the band’s performance at Live Aid, a global charity concert in 1985 that raised money to fight hunger in Ethiopia. But of course, the main reason to see the film is Rami Malek‘s bravura performance as Freddie Mercury, and without a doubt deserves all the hype his take is generating for the upcoming awards season.
Starting off in 1970, the story follows Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek), an Indian-British born in a Parsi family from Zanzibar, who migrated with his parents to England when he was in his late teens. While his shy, effeminate mannerisms and protruding buck teeth made him an easy target for mockery, Farrokh never let anything including family pressure undermine his confidence about his main talent – his voice. Opportunity comes knocking when he ends up offering his services to a band he has been following for some time known as Smile, as their lead singer has walked off, leaving Guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) stranded. Once Farrokh performs on stage and ends ups impressing everyone with his voice and novel antics, he joins them permanently by adopting the name, Freddie Mercury.
Later joined by John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), a bass guitarist, the band renames themselves Queen and gains the attention of John Reid (Aidan Gillen), a renowned music manager and Jim Beach (Tom Hollander), a lawyer, who make sure their songs and Freddie reach heights they could never imagine. With their new found wealth and fame, Freddie’s attitude towards his band mates slowly begins to deteriorate, as he also begins to question his sexuality despite being engaged to Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), and ends up making lifestyle choices which sends Freddie down a path of utter loneliness, which eventually consumes his life.
The challenge for any director putting together a biopic is to find the balance between making sure the audience has been given every moment they want to see and hear in regards to the subject’s public persona while pulling back the curtains enough to delve deep into more personal matters. Here, director Bryan Singer, known mainly for his X-Men films, finds a razor-sharp edge to work with. While the film draws obvious parallels to other music biopics, it also deals with complexities of being Freddie Mercury such as desperation to please his conservative parents, his discovery and acceptance of his sexuality and the revelation that he has AIDS. Like all good rock biopics, the film details Queen’s rise to fame, their fights and their epic successes. The film focuses less on the sex and drugs, and more on the rock n roll by merely alluding to Freddie Mercury’s debaucheries rather than graphically displaying them. Instead, we see the story of a man who was a supernova in public, but incredibly lonely in private.
One of the biggest themes portrayed in the film is the loneliness of stardom. We didn’t need to see the binge drinking, drug use, and copious amounts of random sex to know that Freddie used all those things to fill a void in his own soul and it is heavily implied throughout the film without the audience having to attend every party. Instead, we get much more substance and story which just feels way more important. Here we also get a bit of an inside look at his relationship with Mary Austin for whom he wrote the song “Love of My Life”. Their romance/friendship is both sweet and heartbreaking to see. I know many were worried this film would downplay his sexuality and instead focus on his relationship with Mary, and while the film does focus on this relationship with her, it definitely does not leave out his sexual exploits with men and his eventual relationship with Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker).
While many would like the sole focus of this film to be Freddie Mercury you can’t leave out the rest of the band because, let’s face it, with them there is no Queen. Freddie’s band mates bring a lot to this picture from the sarcastic and at times confrontational Roger Taylor to the band’s voice of reason Brian May to the quiet talent of John Deacon. These guys bring a lot to the table as Freddie’s family, friends, and biggest support system.
Despite all the over the top requests and ideas of their lead singer, these guys jump in with both feet to fuel the fire and bring us some of the greatest music rock has ever seen. Though Queen’s members experience tensions at times, they generally exhibit deep loyalty. Thankfully Freddie realizes at a point that his manipulative personal manager, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), had sought to divide him from the band. Some of my favorite scenes are when the four of them are recording a song. You see as much of the foursome’s creativity as you do their bickering. One of the better sequences is the band recording “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a studio on a farm.
As with most music oriented bio-pics, the film is packed with all the music and excitement one expects from Queen, and it’s loud and powerful. Queen and rock fans can rejoice as a large portion of the film plays out seemingly like a musical. There are several concert montages showing the band’s many performances across the world, as well as montages showing the band recording many of their hit songs. Apart from the title track, audiences can sing along to Killer Queen, Another One Bites the Dust, I Want to Break Free, We Will Rock You and more.
Although there are apparent factual inaccuracies in the film, such as the scenes in which Freddie plans to go solo, which upsets his band mates and the revelation of his AIDS diagnosis prior to Live Aid when he came out about it a few years later, it is still a stunning portrayal of a man whose music and very presence on the planet will leave a grand imprint. Sure, given Mercury’s tragic passing from AIDS, you would be right to expect a strong emotional charge from the film, but that doesn’t exist. Instead, it ends on a high, and drives home the whole point of the film: this is a celebration and a glorious rock and roll odyssey.
A film based around Queen was always going to be reliant on whoever played Mercury. While I’m sure Cohen would have done a commendable job, but I cannot imagine any actor eclipsing the performance of Rami Malek, in what is a career-defining role. Looking like Mercury is one thing, but being able to perform like him is quite another. He doesn’t look exactly like Mercury, but embodies him head to toe. His performance carries the film, and is filled with heart even in some of Mercury’s darker moments. Never one to be ignored or denied Malek‘s Mercury is cocky and charming and just captivating to watch.
Lucy Boynton also brings a contemporary perspective to Mary that allows her to be a great support system. The likeness of Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello to their real life counterparts is uncanny and their dynamic on screen is strong. In supporting roles, Allen Leech is effectively menacing, while Aidan Gillen, Aaron McCusker and Tom Hollander leave a strong impact. Mike Myers is unrecognizable in his cameo. On the whole, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a fascinating ode to a larger than life performer that is both entertaining and heartbreaking as well as contains a terrific award winning performance from its lead.
Directed – Bryan Singer
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 133 minutes