Title: Bohemian Rhapsody
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
HOMER: When I listen to a really good song, I start nodding my head like I'm saying "yes" to every beat: ''Yes! Yes! Yes! This rocks!' And then sometimes I switch it up like: 'No! No! No! Don't stop rockin'!
Brief Plot Synopsis: Queen is dead, long live Queen.
Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: 2.5 bottles of Moët & Chandon out of 5.
Tagline: "Fearless lives forever."
Better Tagline: "We were never ready for Freddie."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's 1970, and young Freddie Bulsara (Rami Malek) has One Vision (or, as he might tell you, I Want it All). Christening himself Freddie Mercury, he joins forces with guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), who find they have A Kind of Magic together. With bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), their band Queen soon causes Radio Ga Ga with an epic single. Meanwhile, Mercury might lose the Love of My Life Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) to his addictions. Under Pressure from his label and bandmates, Mercury eventually decides The Show Must Go On.
"Critical" Analysis: Few would argue with the assertion that Queen's Freddie Mercury was the greatest rock frontman of all time. Those that did would either be Zeppelin purists or contrarians throwing out names like Liam Gallagher or Billy Corgan while snickering into their kombucha.
Mercury's singularly flamboyant stage presence is on display early in Bohemian Rhapsody, giving hope the movie will run with it, offering both a celebration of his career and providing introspection into the singer's life. But in spite of showcasing some memorable performances and providing some high-level history of the band, the film ends up spending an inordinate amount of time lingering on the more sordid aspects of Mercury's life before abruptly ending, six years before the man's death.
When we first meet Farrokh "Freddie" Bulsara, it's 1970 and he's already a 24-year old baggage handler at Heathrow Airport. Right away, we tick off the requisite "disapproving father" and "submissive-but-supporting mother" boxes on the Artist Bio Checklist before launching right into his joining former Smile band members May and Taylor to form Queen (the movie does remind us those two were only available because the original vocalist left to join a band called "Humpy Bong").
Bohemian Rhapsody leans heavily into Mercury's lifelong identity crisis, and doesn't shy from his early struggles with accepting his homosexuality, including the strains put on his relationship with lifelong "best friend" Mary. Director Bryan Singer (originally, though filming was finished by Dexter Fletcher after Singer was fired) deserves some credit for spending time here, as well as for capturing the dynamics within the band itself, though — again — he/they never stray from the expected biopic template of rise > success > conflict/scandal > decline > triumphant return.
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And Queen and Mercury's actual history serves mostly as a guideline. The TV interview where Mercury's former manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) outs the singer takes place in the movie after Mercury's recording sessions for his 1985 solo album, but Prenter died in 1981. And Mercury's reunion with Queen for Live Aid comes after he tells the band of his AIDS diagnosis, but according to all reliable accounts, Mercury wasn't diagnosed until 1987, a full two years later.
More inexplicable (and borderline insulting) is how Mercury's AIDS diagnosis is depicted as the mechanism that finally gave the singer the sense of purpose he'd always sought.
Make no mistake, Malek is fantastic, and the supporting cast — especially Lee, Boynton, and Hardy — are all excellent (even if the filmmakers seemingly forgot to age Roger Taylor at all between 1970 and 1985). Bohemian Rhapsody works when it shows us what made one of the greatest bands of all time tick. It's unfortunately less successful when it wallows in Mercury's excesses or offers up Live Aid as the climax of his career (they toured in '86! And released three more albums!), with Mercury's death treated as a footnote.
It's a damn shame, because when Queen was dialed in, they soared. Think of the bridge in "Teo Torriatte," or 'we can have forever' from "Who Wants to Live Forever?", or the entirety of "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy," or, or, or. Sadly, the most telling part of the movie comes after the release of "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a single, with snippets of negative reviews displayed on screen. One of which describes the song as perfectly adequate. "Adequate" is a pretty accurate assessment of Bohemian Rhapsody itself, and you really couldn't ask for a more damning indictment of a movie about the greatest rock singer of all time.