Quote from Bohemian Rhapsody by Freddie Mercury : “Tell you what it is, Mr. Reid. Now we’re four misfits who don’t belong together, we’re playing for the other misfits. They’re the outcasts, right at the back of the room. We’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.”
Before I really begin with the core of what I want my review to be, let me be clear that the very harsh reviews dispensed by the critics were somewhat understandable, but in the whole scheme of things not all that fair. I often look to reviews as a decent indicator of whether I will see a movie in the theater, but as I’ve learned more than not lately, even the harshest critics are ripe with personal preferences and opinions. Could the movie have incorporated more of Mercury’s gay lifestyle? Yes, but if anyone who has studied gay (read lesbian and bisexual as well) culture during the 1960’s and 1970’s, it was a fragile and dangerous time for those who identified as any of the mentioned above or variation. On that note, Mercury’s onstage persona was clearly separate from his personal self. His decision to tell the world of his illness one day before he died should have been the biggest clue to how fiercely he protected certain parts of his personal life. It simply wasn’t their business. If he were still alive today, I believe he’d think the same way. The last complaint I read was the glossing over of his Persian/Indian roots as if they were something to be swept under the rug. Okay, I get it. We live, in the general sense, in a time when people are more accepting of differences. If this perceived whitewashing of Mercury’s heritage was intentional, well my eyes didn’t see this. This movie was titled Bohemian Rhapsody for a reason. It’s not titled and forgive me for my bad, on the nose title, Freddie Mercury’s Shadow. Would I like to see a biopic focusing on him alone? Yes, I’d see it in a heartbeat. I could say more on this, but I’ve said my peace. Now, I’m going to continue and speak about what makes this movie great.
Bohemian Rhapsody is written by Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan (story) and Anthony McCarten (screenplay). It is primarily directed by Bryan Singer, but Dexter Fletcher came in after Singer departed. The producers are Jim Beach, Dexter Fletcher, Justin Haythe, Richard Hewitt, Graham King, Brian May, Arnon Milchan, Denis O’Sullivan, Jane Rosenthal, Donald Sabourin, and Roger Taylor. The band member cast includes Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazello as John Deacon. (The kid from Jurassic Park had to grow up eventually.) Other cast are Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Aiden Gillen as John Reid, Mike Myers as Ray Foster, Aaron McCusker as Jim Hutton, Allen Leach as Paul Prenter, and Dermot Murphy as Bob Geldof . Freddie Mercury’s cast family are Meneka Das as Jer Bulsara (mother), Ace Bhatti as Bomi Bulsara (father), and Priya Blackburn as Kashmira Bulsara (sister). There are many minor cast members and even more extras. The MPAA rating is PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language. It is two hours and 14 minutes long. It is produced by 20th Century Fox, New Regency, GK Films, and Queen Films, and distributed by 20th Century Fox. Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie about the modest beginnings of Queen, following them along their way to stardom, and ending with one of their best performances at the Live Aid concert in 1985 held at Wembley Stadium in London.
Bohemian Rhapsody begins with Freddie Mercury leading the way to the stage, and what will become one of Queen’s greatest performances. The movie then cuts to the early days, and for those who have a 9 to 5 job or something similar to it, we can relate. It’s almost as if he’s finding a way to inject more excitement into his life. At a nightclub, he impresses a local band called Smile and becomes their new lead singer. Insert the beginning of Bulsara’s transformation. He legally changes his name, to what we all know as Freddie Mercury, and the band members agree to replace Smile with Queen. They gain traction and sign a contract with EMI Records. They furiously create album after album and when “Bohemian Rhapsody” is questioned from the start and then released with mixed reviews, Mercury is steadfast in its importance. The band continues to play across major cities all around the world, and it is here where you see the first signs of Mercury’s questioning and confusion about his sexuality. You gain entrance into his private life a little more in a combination of parties and exploration. There is a scene that deals with phones and lights when the parties end, and while it may seem simplistic at first glance, there’s such a loneliness behind what is played out. It’s one of the best non singing scenes although others may disagree. The cracks begin to get deeper for Queen, and this is where the script strays from what actually happened. It does make for good tension as separations take place, but with satisfying resolve when all is said and done. Mercury’s private life also takes on a deeper tone as he faces the harsher realities it offers. I know this is somewhat vague, but I wholeheartedly believe the portrayal of HIV and AIDS was not done with intentional malice. I don’t think it was done with unintentional malice either. The transition from Mercury’s discovery of his illness to Queen’s preparation for Live Aid is out of sync, but done for maximum effect although some critics found this cliché. Personally, I was not bothered by it. The movie ends where it began, reminding yourself of the young men with large dreams, with Queen stepping rightly onto the world stage.
My first memorable encounter with Rami Malek, as an actor, came in 24 where he played a troubled and confused Marcos Al-Zacar. It was in this performance that I was completely mesmerized of his expressive nature. It might have been his eyes, as they can be intense, but it was more than his eyes that convinced me he was the right choice for Bohemian Rhapsody. When I found out Sacha Baron Cohen was originally going to play Mercury, I had my reservations. His face resembles Mercury better, but whether Cohen could have reached the underbelly of emotions that was necessary for who Mercury was as a person will probably remain an unknown. When I saw Malek, there truly was something riveting about his transformation into Mercury. As the movie progressed and as the credits were rolling, I almost wanted to buy another ticket to watch it again. This will probably become Malek’s most important role and for good reason, unless of course, another great role comes along. I also have to give a huge nod to Gwilym Lee as Brian May and Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor because they were on top of their game too. You can’t go wrong with Mike Myers as Ray Foster. Call it a bit of comic relief, but the wig was hilarious.
I went into the theater ready to be entertained and amazed. I got both by the time the credits rolled. The movie went in the right direction. The pacing was good. The acting was great. The movie had the right amounts of vulnerability, passion, and energy. If another movie is made focusing on another part of Mercury’s life or even the band’s life, I’ll jump in feet first. He was a fascinating person and so was the band. I’ll leave with parting words from Mercury himself while I wait for Bohemian Rhapsody to come out on DVD/Blu-ray.
I give Bohemian Rhapsody Four Fingers and One Thumb at 100%.