Bohemian Rhapsody is the story of Queen. More specifically, the film chronicles the life of Farrokh Bulsara/Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), a buck-toothed awkwardly confident string-bean of a boy who would use his musical genius to help launch the famed London rock band of the 1970s and 1980s as its lead singer. Bohemian Rhapsody follows the musicians from their early beginnings playing pubs and through their tumultuous career where they pushed the envelope by taking risks through both composition and the blending of genres. At the center of the storm is Mercury, a man both idolized and isolated.
What works in Bohemian Rhapsody is Malek and recreation. Malek’s transformation into Mercury is nothing short of spellbinding as he oozes the energy and passion that defined the performer. The sequences on stage are electrifying and entertaining, but equally impressive are the subdued quiet moments that appropriately echo hollowly with loneliness and fear of acceptance. To watch Malek oscillate between the two extremes showcases the depth and complexity he brings to Mercury, known as a mostly-enigmatic man until this honest portrayal.
Despite a publicly turbulent production (but would Freddie have had it any other way?), credited director Bryan Singer has crafted a meticulously detailed retelling of Queen’s reign. Singer carefully weaves together new insight regarding the genesis of some of fans’ favorite musical hits with choreographed reconstructions of what it felt like to experience Queen live. The 1985 Live Aid concert, in particular, is a marvel when one considers how difficult it must have been to recreate Mercury’s likely improvisational engagement with the audience through his personal style of singing and dancing.
While Bohemian Rhapsody reverberates with vigor, a critique may arise on the opposite sides of the aforementioned coins. First, Malek does not sing, at least the technical definition of the word, when portraying Mercury. Instead, old master tapes of Mercury are used, combined with new recordings from Canadian singer Marc Martel, which are then further combined with Malek. Some may feel that this decision lessens Malek’s performance, but there is something rather impressive about how sound mixer John Casali was able to seamless blend the different voices to sound natural and consistent from speaking to Mercury testing out lyrics behind closed to belting them out in front of hundreds of thousands.
The other component that should be noted is Bohemian Rhapsody’s structure. The musical biography cadence is so well-known and played-out, the genre has even spawned its own parody (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story). Bohemian Rhapsody rides this narrative train glued to the rails. If one is accustomed to the rise, fall, redemption arc that has accompanied similar films, Bohemian Rhapsody may feel a bit formulaic. It is worth remembering and considering, however, that the surviving members of Queen had creative control over the story and that while the execution may feel a bit safe, that does not make it inaccurate.
Bohemian Rhapsody pulls back the stage curtain on the intriguing and cultural important Queen in a manner that may seem familiar, but none-the-less compelling, thanks in large part to Malek embodying the larger-than-life Mercury.
Recommended if you liked: Walk the Line, Ray, Get On Up
Final Grade: B+
Probable Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Actor in a Leading Role – Rami Malek
Possible Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Sound Mixing
- Best Costume Design