"Bohemian Rhapsody" Flawed But Will Still Rock You (Rock You!)

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Bohemian Rhapsody starring Rami Malek (r) and Gwilym Lee (l), opening in theaters everywhere Nov 2, 2018.

Mid 1970s music critics ridiculed Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsodywhen it was released as the first single from their A Night at the Opera album in 1975. Fans, on the other hand, pushed the song to number one in the United Kingdom. Bryan Singer’s latest film, also entitled “Bohemian Rhapsody,” likewise received less-than-stellar praise by current movie critics, so if history repeats itself Queen fans will likely push the film to number one when it opens November 2, 2018.

There’s nothing wrong with that, honestly. Queen frontman Freddie Mercury is a fascinating topic, and rightfully the focus of the film. Rami Malek of Mr. Robot fame does a fantastic job portraying Zanzibar’s most famous expat and one of the most distinct voices in rock music history. The rest of the band, guitar virtuoso Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) look the part and act admirably, but are clearly second fiddle to Mercury’s story.

The first half of the film focuses on the band’s formation and rise to superstardom, while highlighting Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). Some of you may be thinking, “Wait, everyone knows Mercury was gay, right?” Well, Mercury himself never publicly addressed his sexual identity, and this film doesn’t answer that question either. That ambiguity may not sit well with some folks. Was he gay? Bisexual? Was he still trying to figure himself out when he died from AIDS-related pneumonia? In the end, does it really matter so much? Other critics have decried the omission of those later years, but honestly, do audience want to spend the last hour of a movie watching a global music icon suffer from a terrible disease? Ending the film with a rousing re-enactment of Queen’s legendary Live Aid performance was the right move.

The film, however, is clearly uneven as Bryan Singer’s breakneck pace in the first act slows to a turtle’s saunter. Way too much time was spent on Mercury’s love of cats. His relationship with Jim Hutton late in his life deserved more exploration. And Mercury’s bandmates are never given proper depth. They casually mention Brian May’s astrophysics background—heck, a rock guitar god space scientist deserves his own movie! May and Taylor are credited as executive producers, so one wonders to what degree they pushed Singer to focus on Mercury and undercut the rest of the band’s personal and professional lives.  I, for one, had no idea that Mercury ever had a significant heterosexual relationship, having believed him to be homosexual all along.  I found Lucy Boynton’s portrayal of Mary Austin to be up to the task, demonstrating good chemistry with Malek while walking the metaphysical tightrope of loving a man who can’t entirely love her back, but still willing to maintain that friendship to the end of Freddie’s life.

Complaints aside, you’ll be hard pressed to find a film with a better soundtrack this year. In the film, Rami Malek’s voice is blended with Canadian singer Marc Matel, a mix that replicates Mercury’s operatic range quite well.  If you buy the actual soundtrack, however, that’s actually Queen.  If you’re a real Queen fan, rock on out to your favorite movie theater and see if you can tell the difference. If you’re more of a casual fan, just crank up your stereo and wait for it to get to Netflix.

Grade: 
3.5 / 5.0