There’s really only one place to begin when talking about Bohemian Rhapsody. The story of one of the most legendary bands in rock history unsurprisingly focuses on its brightest star. Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, became a legendary frontman and icon during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Queen soared to the top of the worldwide charts, becoming a phenomenon and pop culture lightning rod. Yet Mercury’s death due to complications with AIDS is just one of the enduring legacies that made him an icon. Actor Rami Malek, best known for his turn on Mr. Robot does everything he can to keep the film above water and electrifies the screen from its opening moments. This makes for a rather spectacular performance, one that carries a troubled film to watchable.
The film opens on Mercury in the morning before Queen’s legendary Live Aid performance at Wembley. It then flashes back to his time as a baggage handler and his late college nights. He meets Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), who just lost their lead singer. They quickly collect a bass player John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and the four become Queen. As they begin to collect success thanks to their managers (Tom Hollander, Aiden Gillen, and Allen Leech), Mercury meets Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and the two fall in love. As Queen rises to the top of the world, Freddie begins to realize his true self, leading to conflict with those around him.
Again, this film begins and ends with its protagonist. Malek simply stuns as Mercury in a way few performances have this year. He runs through the gamut of emotions and comes out the other side with vulnerability. He is endlessly charismatic and somehow pulls off the physicality needed to approximate Mercury on stage. Early in the film, there is a joke noted about Mercury being so dynamic as a performer, no one will notice he is lip syncing. Considering the film uses actual Mercury audio tracks, this is also true for the film, adding an extra level of amazement to Malek’s skillful performance. This is the most dynamic performance by an acting playing a musician this year, which says a lot (looking at you A Star Is Born).
However, Malek covers up major issues in the film. This mostly stems from the rote exposition drops throughout the film. The screenplay from Anthony McCarten feels hobbled by its need to give everyone credit. Literally everyone. You can tell that May and the rest of the band were exceedingly hands-on with that material. While the movie does not avoid the discussion about Mercury as a Gay man, we never see him do anything more than kiss anyone. It feels shallow in that storyline, and that is true for other storylines as well.
The movie is undeniably funny at times, and that gives a lighthearted tone to several scenes in the movie that desperately need them. However, that is one of the few levels the cast gets. Either they are in awe of Mercury (the entire band/managers), in love with him (Boynton & Leech), or villainous (Mike Myers in a frustrating self-aware part & Leech). There aren’t really many things for these actors to do, despite lots of interesting ground to cover.
The production is fine, but there’s nothing spectacular about it. The sets mostly exist to give Malek room to run around and play. The directors overuse montage, and by the fourth or fifth, you get frustrated. It’s shot well enough and has some very cool moments during the Wembley set. The Live Aid performance eats up the last twenty minutes of the film, but it might also be the strongest run at any point. Bryan Singer was fired off the project, forcing reshoots and issues around the film. Frankly, the direction mostly just hits the important beats and never does anything spectacular anyway.
The soundtrack is obviously magical, and there’s no doubt audiences love watching Queen perform. Listening to Queen’s recordings of the songs does not hurt either. Credit to sound designer John Warhurst and the rest of the sound team. They get the most out of the music. The effort to level it out, and the editing job from the lot, and they really shine in this feature.
Overall, there are major issues that hurt Bohemian Rhapsody. Yet it undeniably features one of the best performances from the year in Malek. He is so electric, so shiny, and so charismatic, you will fall head over heels for his work. That is undeniably the strongest part of the film, and while the rest struggles, it becomes easy to recommend someone see two hours of Queen music and Malek’s performance.