Film Review: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Is A Fitting Tribute To Queen
Bohemian Rhapsody, 21st Century Fox’s long-percolating Queen biopic, finally hit theaters on Friday (November 2) and proved to be a runaway success — bringing in $51 million at the North American box office in its first three days. To put things into perspective, that’s $6 million more than A Star Is Born earned in the same time period. That result stunned some commentators give the film’s infamous production issues and lukewarm reviews, but they clearly underestimated Queen’s enormous fanbase and the impact of their music.
The film begins with a young and hopeful Freddie Mercury trying to worm his way into an early iteration of the band called Smile. From the very start, it’s clear that Rami Malek was the only choice to bring the flamboyant frontman to life. In his capable hands, Freddie never slips into caricature — no small feat considering the dentures he wears to recreate the rocker’s pronounced overbite or the dazzling array of wigs and costumes he dons throughout the movie.
His is an exceedingly sympathetic portrayal that captures Freddy’s inner turmoil and the sheer joy he derived from making music. Speaking of which, it becomes clear early on that Bohemian Rhapsody is catering to the largest possible demographic by its (unrealistically) wholesome depiction of band life in the ’70s. There are references to drugs and alcohol, but nothing graphic enough to upset fragile sensibilities. It’s a little jarring at first, but that decision takes the sensationalism out of the movie and places the focus squarely on their music.
While the band’s early recordings are given short shrift, a lot more time is spent on the recording of A Night At The Opera — arguably their best album. It’s particularly joyful to see “Bohemian Rhapsody” come to life. Freddie’s hunger to break the rules and experiment is on full display, as is Queen’s willingness to go along with his wacky vision. Brian May, sympathetically portrayed by Gwilym Lee, patiently tweaks his guitar solo until Freddie is satisfied, while Roger Taylor (a wide-eyed Ben Hardy) gives opera a try in the vocal booth. It’s endearing and utterly engaging.
The same goes from the scene where Ray Foster (an unrecognizable Mike Myers), the then label-head of EMI, tells the band that “Bohemian Rhapsody” will never get played because you can’t bang your head to it — an obvious nod to Wayne’s World. Up until the recording of A Night At The Opera, Freddie is depicted as a loving and faithful husband to Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton) despite being camper than a row of tents. That changes when he is pursued by manager Paul Prenter and ultimately comes to terms his sexuality. It must be said that Paul is the film’s most one-dimensional character. He died in 1991, so we’ll never know if he was truly a villain or a convenient plot device.
From there, the focus becomes Queen’s iconic performance at Live Aid in 1985. While this raises several historical inaccuracies (the band was still on speaking terms and Freddy’s AIDS diagnosis is believed to have come much later), there is no faulting the film’s staggering recreation of the performance. Director Bryan Singer absolutely nails this part, making you feel like you’re sitting front row at a Queen concert. And who wouldn’t want to experience that? Happily, we’re treated to the full setlist including classics like “Radio Ga Ga,” “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions.” Oh and the note heard round the world is also lovingly depicted.
The main issue critics seem to have with the film is its tame depiction of Freddie’s personal life. And while there is definitely room for a gritty, warts-and-all biopic about this legend (sign me up), Bohemian Rhapsody is a celebration of the band and their legacy, rather than an expose of one individual member. And that’s fine too. If you’re a diehard Queen fan or just curious to see what all the fuss is about, this is a hugely entertaining way to spend 2 hours and 15 minutes.