After a much-publicized rocky and troubled film production that saw the film’s original, and still solely credited, director Bryan Singer fired mid-production and actor/director Dexter Fletcher pressed into service to finish the film, the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody finally stomps its way into theaters this weekend across North America. This ‘band authorized’ look at the start and rise of Queen, through their subsequent breakup and reuniting for their now legendary Live Aid performance, looks to walk some familiar territory, but does the film delve deep enough to show us more than what we already know?
The film starts with a young Farrokh “Freddie” Bulsara (Rami Malek), prior to fully adapting his more famous stage name, as he lives and works with this family in a small, workman-like British town of Middlesex. Freddie has bigger aspirations than that of his father and his schooling, and very soon we see him run into 2 other students with similar aspirations in guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), who just coincidentally have lost their lead singer minutes prior to their meeting. After bringing on board Roger Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) to play bass, the band sets to work writing new songs and performing, where Freddie’s flair for the dramatic becomes obvious. During this time, Freddie also becomes enamored with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) who encourages his passion for fashion and helps mold his larger than life stage persona. The film follows the band’s meteoric rise to the top of the charts until the interference of one of Freddie’s “inner circle” leads to the termination of the group’s manager and the beginning of the signs of their break up. And then the lure of the biggest concert ever up to that point, Live Aid, looks to bring the band back.
If anything should be obvious from that film synopsis it’s that this film is very ‘paint by numbers’ as far as biopics go. There’s really nothing here that a 15-minute internet search can’t fully flush out and explain. It’s like jumping into the shallow end of the pool and ignoring the gigantic chasm at the bottom of the deep end entirely, like the tastiest lemon meringue pie you can imagine- but without the lemon. It’s a greatest hits package that mashes together too many sequences into ridiculous coincidences that it lends the film levels of incredulity at parts, like the aforementioned meeting of the band for the first time, or the ridiculous manner in which the band’s first performance manages to magically result in all the band’s trademarks just happening, like Freddie’s half mic stand for example. Director Singer seems obsessed with meticulously recreating concert footage that is already readily available, so much so that he sacrifices the story in favor of it. Restaging the Live Aid concert, in almost its entirety, for the final act is a prime example. The audience can easily find the real footage, and as great as the performance was, we don’t need 15 of the band’s 20-minute set replayed out here.
The film’s saving grace comes in the form of its acting talent. Rami Malek is outstanding as Freddie. It’s an award-worthy turn, as he manages not only a spot-on interpretation of the man but infuses his performance with pathos, raw emotion, and charisma that will be sure to captivate audiences. It’s still hard to believe that the man who started out opposite Ben Stiller in the Night at the Museum films has become one of our most trusted actors. It’s an all-encompassing performance as he completely disappears into Freddie’s skin. The rest of the band does really good work here as well, with Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy looking exactly like their counterparts. The only mild distraction here comes from Joseph Mazello who never quite manages to ditch the fact that “the kid from Jurassic Park is all grown up and playing bass for Queen” in the film. In fact, it becomes even more distracting when he wears a very high hairpiece during the Live Aid concert that only brought back memories of a post-fence electrified Tim in the arms of Sam Neil. Lucy Boynton portrays Mary with a level of charm that is sweet and lovely, showing us exactly why someone like Freddie could become so enthralled with this lady. And a nearly unrecognizable Mike Myers has a fun extended cameo.
As to be expected with Queen, the musical performances are breathtaking, as the music has long proven why its still as relevant today as it was when it came out. And frankly, most audiences will likely be swept up in the performances and the music here. But just the tiniest poking past that glam reveals a film that is shallow at its core and lacking a lot of real substance. There’s a lot more out there to be learned about Freddie Mercury and the band Queen that is simply never explored here at all, and it’s a shame. Because it’s hard to imagine there will ever be another actor that will be able to bring the type of performance to the table as Mercury as Malek does here.
- Release Date: 10/2/2018