3 out of 5 stars.
You don’t need to know much about the band Queen to know that their music defied convention; one listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” will tell you that. It’s curious and rather disappointing then that the biopic of the band and its lead singer, Freddie Mercury, is the definition of conventional. It’s a superficial, rather than in depth, overview of the band’s history from their humble beginnings in 1970 leading up to their now-legendary performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert, and (as the majority of biopics are) it is littered with historical inaccuracies. But thanks to a strong performance from Rami Malek and a handful and really well-done scenes, it has a lot of entertainment value, and some merit.
Boasting the same name as the band’s most famous song, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is directed by Bryan Singer (who was fired from the project with two weeks of shooting left and replaced by Dexter Fletcher). It stars Malek as Farrokh Bulsara, an Indian/British Parsi who adopts the name Freddie Mercury after joining a local band and forming their new group, Queen. Along with guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazello), Queen plays at local gigs until they get together enough money to record an album, when their experimental style catches the attention of an executive at EMI Records, landing them a contract and catapulting Queen to stardom.
The most glaring issue with “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that it doesn’t pick a specific theme to follow, or a particular aspect of the band to focus on. Instead, it tries to cram as much of the band’s history into 134 minutes as possible. This isn’t as bothersome in the first half of the film, which for the most part takes the audience behind the scenes of the creation of some of Queen’s greatest hits, with a particular emphasis on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Even if these scenes aren’t historically accurate, it’s fun to watch the band work together, very nearly getting to the heart of what made Queen so special. It helps that the cast has great chemistry, led by a career-defining performance by Malek, who may not resemble the real Freddie much physically, but does a great job portraying both Freddie’s insecurities and his flamboyant side, and the charisma he had that helped him form such strong connections with his audiences. The cast also includes Aidan Gillen as Queen’s manager John Reid, Tom Hollander as their lawyer Jim Beach, a surprisingly slimy Allen Leech as manager Paul Prenter, and a nearly unrecognizable Mike Myers as EMI executive Ray Foster, a rather bizarre addition to the narrative as Ray Foster didn’t exist in real life (in this movie, he exists solely to provide some pushback to the band’s desire to make the six-minute long “Bohemian Rhapsody” a single).
And then there’s Lucy Boynton, who plays Freddie’s close lifelong friend Mary Austin, who like the rest of the supporting cast, is very good but sadly rather short-changed in terms of depth and screen-time. While “Bohemian Rhapsody” is entertaining and engaging most of the time, it starts to lag in its third act, as all the inconsistencies in its story and characters become increasingly obvious. Freddie’s devotion to Queen and his bandmates is suddenly thrown out the window in favor of the typical Hollywood break-up story (again, an event that didn’t actually happen). His contentious relationship with his father is an issue at the beginning of the film, but isn’t brought up again until the very end, so the scene doesn’t have the big emotional impact it should have. It’s obvious that the film wants to dive more into Freddie’s personal life, but while it spends some time on his relationships and lifestyle, it doesn’t go too deep. Some of this could be a result of trying to make a PG-13 movie—this film frequently feels too tame and likely could have benefited from an R rating—but most it of it is due to the lack of a tight script, and possibly even other production drama (as I mentioned, director Singer was fired toward the end of filming, with rumors swirling that he frequently clashed with the cast).
Again, there are some sequences that “Bohemian Rhapsody” really gets right, namely the concert scenes, which culminate in a staggering recreation of the band’s set at Live Aid. Despite being staged as a Queen reunion of sorts (it wasn’t) and despite Malek doing very little of the actual singing himself (he is still wholly invested in the performance, don’t get me wrong), and even despite being a rather clichéd Hollywood movie moment, it manages to stand as a powerful example of Freddie Mercury and Queen’s impact on audiences all over the world. It’s just too bad it also serves as an example of the potential this movie had to be something really great. Sure, elements of true stories are often changed for more dramatic effect when they are adapted for film, but something tells me that a story with more basis in fact would have been just as good, if not better. All you need are the people, and the music.
Runtime: 134 minutes. Rated PG-13.