Will “Bohemian Rhapsody” send shivers down your spine? If you’re expecting a sensationalized biopic as scandalous as the legendry Freddie Mercury then no; but if you’re looking for his sanitized version deemed forgivable by Rami Malek’s charismatic performance as the theatrical, leather-clad rock deity? Then yes, it will give you something to love.
Directed by (credited) director Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) and replaced with Dexter Fletcher (“Eddie the Eagle”) later in production, this biopic, nearly eight years in the making, was written by Anthony McCarten (“The Theory of Everything”), recreating the nostalgic fog of the 70s, the age of corduroy and Wranglers. Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek’s (“Mr. Robot”) alluring portrayal of Mercury is impressive, embodying the artist’s flamboyant charm and charisma leading up to the era of sexual liberation. Mercury’s operatic aura exudes from Malek, even donning his famous overbite with some minor facial prosthetics, to resemble the legend.
The film sets the stage with Mercury pumping himself up before Queen’s history-making performance at the Live Aid charity concert in 1985. From here, it flashes back 15 years prior to Mercury’s less glamourous days as a baggage handler at an airport in London when he was legally known as Farrokh Bulsara.
Born in Zanzibar to parents of Parsi descent, the family’s move to England lead Mercury to music and his bandmates, then playing as “Smile.” Guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) meet baby-faced Mercury in a parking lot after a gig and in an instant, becomes their lead singer after their own quits. From here, we watch Mercury bloom into Queen’s larger-than-life artistic visionary and creative force, fusing glam rock with arena rock.
When Queen’s melodramatic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a six-minute rock operetta of strife and nonsensical mysticism, is deemed unfit for 1975’s radio waves by Mike Myers’ caricature of record executive Ray Foster, Queen hits a roadblock in retaining its originality and artistic vision while gambling with their careers. Their nonconformance with radio time limits goes beyond the matter of minutes — Queen distinguishes itself from other artists with this dedication to its raw authenticity and ability to transcend generations, forever to be played in school auditoriums and stadiums nationwide.
The film also explores Mercury’s marriage with Mary Austin (“Sing Street” star Lucy Boynton) and hints at a crazy little thing called bisexuality, following Mercury’s starry-eyed gazes toward other men and grazing the surface of his affair with manipulative manager Paul Prenter (“Downtown Abbey”) and his positive relationship with Jim Hutton, introduced later in the film.
Though Mercury was unapologetically theatrical and sexually expressive in reality, his bisexuality was more of a whisper and less of a loud personal revelation in the film, subtly substituting “bisexual” with “gay” rather than demanding a divorce between the two.
The previous project, initially set to be directed by Stephen Frears and starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Freddie Mercury, was proposed to be an R-rated tell-all divulging into his sexuality and psyche – unfortunately, this project was nixed when Queen band members demanded a PG-13 rating, promoting its accessibility over realism.
Because the film was made in cooperation with Queen’s surviving members, this PG-13 rating puts a damper how much (and how thoroughly) the film explores both Mercury’s authenticity and that of his bandmates, straying from divulging too much into their boozy antics or Mercury’s suspiciously-powdered dollar bills.
Though briefly explored in the film, sequences depicting Queen’s creative processes for some of its most popular songs, like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” were intriguing but limited, only catching glimpses of interesting incidents like these but compressing them to carve out time for an entire reenactment of Live Aid, Malek lip-syncing every lyric to “Radio Gaga,” and all. Also skimmed over is a deeper psychological insight into the man behind the stick microphone and what lies beneath Mercury’s feathered and flashy exterior.
Though compared to other rock biopics, like 1991’s “The Doors” with Val Kilmer and 2005’s “Walk the Line” with Joaquin Phoenix, this is one of the genre’s best because of Malek’s performance, though the character feels underdeveloped and sidelined to unravel Queen’s success, which feels more like the structure of an edited Wikipedia article.
Out of 10, I rate this movie a six — “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” snappy jams and snappy dialogue resurrect this iconic rock star and cultural icon with Rami Malek’s mesmerizing performance of Freddie Mercury, but lacks teeth. Perhaps the world isn’t ready for Baron’s portrayal of Mercury, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a better-written movie with a more risqué reenactment of Mercury’s rise to stardom in 30 or so years.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is playing at the Oneida Movieplex, located at 2152 Glenwood Shopping Plaza in Oneida. For information and showtimes, visit movieplex.zurichcinemas.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.
Nov 13, 2018
Nov 13, 2018
Nov 13, 2018