Growing up I was introduced to rock-n-roll through the music of two bands, Stix and Queen with the later teaching me the true nuance and artistry of the genre. Honestly, I was thrilled when I heard that the band, and mainly lead singer Freddie Mercury, would be the subject of a biopic to be released this year. However, the film endured development hell as well as a change to its leading man and controversy over the continued disappearance and odd behavior of director Bryan Singer who was fired with two weeks left in principal photography. So there were many who questioned whether or not this film would do the legacy of its subjects justice based on its rocky development alone while others have been anxiously awaiting this biopic the same way countless fans embraced the music of the band back in the day. So did this movie live up to the hype or do an injustice to the story of a treasurer musical icon? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Bohemian Rhapsody” mainly focuses on the life, fame, and legacy of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) who becomes the lead singer of a band called Smile after their lead singer quits. Along with guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and bassist John Deacon (Aidan Gillen) the band Queen is born and the stories and composition of some of their most popular tunes is explored. The film also explores Freddie’s relationship with partner Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) as he finds himself questioning his sexuality. Freddie deals with the pressures of fame and fortune and his diagnosis with an incurable disease while Queen becomes one of the biggest bands in rock history. The whole story leads up to the band’s famous comeback set at Live Aid, considered by many to be one of if not THE greatest live rock performance of all time.
So, I may have some very different opinions compared to the rest of my fellow critics because for the most part I really enjoyed this film. Does it have its errors, yeah but there’s a lot to love about “Bohemian Rhapsody”. First off are the performances including an awesome and in-depth performance by Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Malek has the mannerisms, the image, and the vocal inflections down pat pretty much becoming Mercury right before our eyes. I expected it to be a great performance but honestly didn’t expect one that would be this fun to watch even from a talent like Malek’s.
The rest of the band is also very well represented. Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello portray Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon capturing their images and playing styles quite well. The best part is while a lot of the film does focus on Mercury we do get an understanding of how the band as a whole was a unit, a family, and a team. Queen was not just Freddie Mercury even if Freddie was the most prominent and famous member and this movie does a great deal to try and show us that. It explores how each member played a part in writing the songs, how they each had their own talent and personality and how sometimes this “family” would clash leading to fractures in the band. While “Bohemian Rhapsody” does put main focus on the famous lead singer it proves to be more than just a biopic of a single person but an exploration of the camaraderie and history of one of rock-n-roll’s greatest bands as a whole and does so with great respect to all involved in my opinion.
What makes “Bohemian Rhapsody” so much fun is that it FEELS like an epic experience just like the band’s concerts. Every musical number is filled with energy and passion and I’m not going to lie I was invested the entire time even at the slowest moments. I wanted to see where the story would go and how Queen defied expectations and, frankly, the odds to bring a new sound and style to the masses. Watching the recording sessions is a neat look into their creative process while the depiction of the Live Aid concert is a near shot for shot adrenaline pumping experience in itself despite a few songs from the actual set being left out. That was by far my favorite moment of the film. The Live Aid performance alone was like watching a real concert play out on screen perfectly capturing the energy and fun of what many consider the greatest rock-n-roll live performance ever. Another positive is that the film doesn’t forsake the backstory but attempts to show us how the songs were born.
One of my favorite aspects of this movie was the script. It does have its minor flaws and clichés but it’s just so damn entertaining and charming. The entire cast feels alive with personality thanks in no small part to the writing which includes some great one liners and quips that add levity but also contains some very human experiences and realizations that keep the movie grounded. Freddy Mercury and his bandmates were known for their creativity and their passion for their art so portraying them as witty and fun while also incredibly human feels like a natural approach to bringing this band’s story to life. The entire production, from the screenplay to the script and cinematography, presents this story as one filled with ups and downs, highs and lows and a lot of unrelenting fun which is how I honestly imagined Queen’s rise to fame would have been. It’s not always historically accurate, but the creative license doesn’t compromise the real-life story as much as you’d think As I said, there are moments in the movie where the dialogue is a bit cliché but that only makes the characters feel more human because everything else they say and do is so flamboyant or unique. I just feel like everything comes together nicely in one package to make “Bohemian Rhapsody” more than an experience, but a borderline spectacle at times in its own right just like the band it’s based on.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
One of my biggest problems with “Bohemian Rhapsody” is it does take a little time to find its footing. The beginning of the film felt incredibly rushed to me going from Mercury’s humble beginnings to his joining the band to their recording an album and then getting a record deal all in I believe a 20-minute span if not less. This gave me very little time to invest in these characters and felt a lot like a clip show to start off the film rather than a true in depth look at the band’s origins. But, I have to admit that “Bohemian Rhapsody” does find its footing through the second and third acts as it gets better at fitting the most detail into it’s 2 hour and 15 minute time span. Even then there are still some moments scattered throughout the film that feel either forced or rushed, but they’re not as noticeable as the first segment of the film and nowhere near as annoying.
Like many other critics probably my biggest gripe with “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that it’s very tame. I’ll admit I’m on board with the fact that this should have been an R-rated film instead of PG-13 movie. The language is far too tame for some of the conflicts that these band members deal with and while we get some great insight into Mercury’s homosexuality and, yeah, we do see him kiss a few guys and get close to other men that’s as far as the movie is willing to go. That wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t also hold back on displaying his drug habits and the at-times volatile disagreements he has with his band mates. We get allusions to his drug habits and such but that’s all. The filmmakers clearly left out some more brutal realities which waters down the personal struggles and insane party life Mercury was known to have in real life. Even the partying we do see is tame compared to what Freddie was supposedly known to enjoy. This “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t fully embrace the opportunity to tell this magnificent performer’s full backstory. Audiences would have come to see this movie regardless. That I fully believe. So, I don’t really understand the mentality of making it PG-13. It doesn’t make this a bad film, but it does make it a project clearly held back by the limitations of the studio and the desired rating. There’s so much more to this story, clearly, and I wish it had the chance to tell it. But what we get is still a perfectly serviceable biopic that chronicles one of rock’s greatest acts.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is not perfect, but it’s much better than you might have heard. While it does take some creative liberties, the historical inaccuracies are surprisingly few and far between. The acting is on point and the story is engaging and a whole lot of fun to experience. The Live Aid concert is by far not only the biggest set piece but the best part of the whole movie and had me entertained the same way this legendary band managed to capture the hearts and ears of viewers around the world in their prime. Its problems are undeniable, including a rushed first act and a clearly reserved approach to the story to keep it within the PG-13 guidelines, but in the end what we get is a truly entertaining biopic that perfectly rides the line between a look into history and an entertaining cinematic experience. Like the band that inspired it, “Bohemian Rhapsody” will without a doubt end up being an acquired taste for some depending on what your looking for, but for me it was an enjoyable film that I found easy to invest in with a story that deserves to be told. It might not do complete justice to Mercury and the legacy of Queen, but it does enough to remind us all why this legendary band was so beloved and so fascinating in their prime.