I wasn’t exposed to Queen until my college years. After my freshman year of college, I was singing ‘We Will Rock You’ with my hallmates and celebrating with ‘We Are The Champions’ when Virginia Tech won the ACC championship. It’s safe to say that I had a good base of study to go off on when I went into this film last Saturday. Musically, it did not disappoint.
Bohemian Rhapsody is the biopic about the band, Queen, focusing on lead singer Freddy Mercury’s life from his early days with the band and leading up to Queen’s LiveAid performance at Wembley Stadium in 1985.
This biographical film has gone through its share of struggles since 2010. Sasha Baron Cohen was originally slated to play Freddy Mercury but that faded away into oblivion, Director Bryan Singer left the film weeks before completion (Dexter Fletcher, uncredited, completed the film). Despite all of this, the movie that emerged from this was overall decent, full of art and safe compromise – the opposite of Queen’s flamboyant frontman.
Rami Malek’s big screen performance is the shining core of this film. Known for his coiled, introverted cybersecurity expert on USA Network’s Mr. Robot, Malek is completely transformed in this lead singer’s role – a human equivalent of a unicorn made of fashion, wild hair, id, and spandex. More than good acting, Malek possessed that infectious charisma that makes Mercury entrancing from the moment he steps on the screen. From anonymous London loner to rising up the ladder of stardom, Malek commands each screen. It’s the transition where the movie hits the mark strong – a customary Behind the Music arc of humble beginnings and meteoric rise, drug-laden downfall and a final resurrection to triumph – feels less standard than they are in a film like this.
Where I see this film falling short, ironically, is at the threshold of Freddy’s bedroom. Freddy’s sexuality is no secret to anyone and they seem to leave this in the margins of the film, leaning heavily on his hetero-normative romance with Mary Austin (played by the beautiful Lucy Boynton). Now, this could be a commercial moviemaking decision (because I think this film could have been rated R) or a form of legacy protection on the part of the surviving bandmates.
There is a silliness in the movie as well in the script’s safe training-wheels approach to the storytelling, especially with the band’s label head (played by a ginger-bearded Mike Myers) makes a suggestion that no one will play Queen’s music. Oh, we see where this is going.
What was a smart move in the film was having the third act lead up to Queen’s legendary 1985 Live Aid performance. It was used as a framing device: Malek’s Mercury taking center stage, knowing the end was coming for him but still singing his band into immortality with each note and causing the audience, especially those fans of Queen, to shed a tear or two.
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