Farrokh “Freddie” Bulsara (Rami Malek) was a gangly young construction worker trying to fit in. His passion for music had him following a smalltime band around. One night, he geeks out with the band at just the right time: their lead singer just quit! He takes the opportunity to step in as the new lead singer and songwriter – his talent impressive despite his unusual look. He’s not the only misfit in the group: lead guitarist, Brian May (Gwilym Lee) is an astrophysicist, drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) is a dentist, and bass player John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) is an electrician. Along the way, Freddie also meets and falls in love with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) who eventually will become his wife.
Freddie legally changes his last name to Mercury, despite the effect it’ll have on his Parsi family, and the band changes their name to Queen. They gain popularity around England and pay for their own album recording to send to record labels. They quickly find themselves signed and on international tour becoming not just a hit but with “Queen” becoming a household name. Despite being globally loved, on tour with his bandmates, and married to the love of his life, Freddie finds himself lonely and explores his sexuality for the first time to discover he’s homosexual despite his intense love for Mary. He begins surrounding himself with “the wrong crowd” and things become rocky for Queen.
Bohemian Rhapsody has come under a lot of scrutiny. Many hardcore Queen fans are in an uproar about the liberties taken with the history of the band and some of the facts of people in Freddie Mercury’s life. Personally, I have nothing to say about the film in that regard. I’m a fan of Queen’s music (the titular song is, in my opinion, the greatest song ever recorded), but I must admit to being largely unfamiliar with the infamous behind-the-scenes aspects of their personal lives or how the music came into being. Therefore, I’ll judge the movie on the basis on what it is: a movie!
If Rami Malek doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for this film, I’ll be flabbergasted! The ease with which he fluctuates between this shy and insecure man (albeit a flamboyant one) to commanding all attention on the stage is impressive to say the least, especially with his mouth hindered with oversized dentures matching of the legendary singer. I’m surprised he could talk with those teeth in his mouth let alone sing. Which begs the question: is that really Malek’s voice?
The answer is “sort of”. Malek revealed in a recent interview the voice we’re hearing belt those classic Queen lyrics in Mercury’s operatic style is actually an amalgam of his own voice and that of YouTube star Marc Matel. The result is about a dozen amazing performances throughout the film. Oddly enough, none of those performances are on the movie’s soundtrack, available in stores now. Instead, the soundtrack is comprised only of Queen’s original recordings.
The runtime of the movie is 134 minutes, and there are times when you start to feel that length. Most of the time the pacing is great and clips along nicely, but there are instances throughout the middle section where you can tell you’re watching something that’s going to be well over 2 hours even if you didn’t know that going in.
The film’s story/script, written by Peter Morgan (creator of The Crown) and Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour and The Theory of Everything) has also come under fire by some critics who’ve tagged it as being a “cookie cutter” story. I can understand that viewpoint as there are certainly sequences and a certain order of events that we’ve seen in other band-related movies. For me, this didn’t really hinder the movie that much. Was it a little cliché? Perhaps. Could they have gone deeper into Freddie Mercury’s sexual exploration and its effects on all aspects of his life? Sure, but then you’d have a very different movie. And the question then becomes is this meant to be a movie about Queen, or an in-depth look at Mercury’s personal life?
As is, there’s a little of both, harmonizing with one another in a way that I found to be special. But with so many facets to the man’s life, there’s a lot of things that could’ve been the focus of any movie on his life. With a runtime of already well over 2 hours, you’d be threatening to move into epic runtime territory in order to dive in to each part of what made him the icon he is.
Bohemian Rhapsody may not be the movie some fans want, but for someone like me – who knows the music but has never bothered to look behind the curtain – it’s a strong film, an Oscar contender for Malek’s amazing performance alone, and a great way to spend some time at the movies. I was also amused when I recognized Mike Meyers in his cameo… so there’s also that to look forward to!