Mercury doesn’t rise in Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody
There’s a lot to parse in the making of Bohemian Rhapsody, the long-gestating movie about the music of Queen and, more specifically, the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury. Will the film have anything interesting to say about a band that’s long become a legend? Can the movie be about more than just their classic songs? Will there be a Wayne’s World reference?
The answers to those three questions are hit-and-miss, and the film contains more than its fair share of cheesiness. Rami Malek plays Mercury, complete with an enormous — and somewhat distracting — set of fake teeth. The film tracks his rise from Farrokh Bulsara, an unknown airport worker, to Freddie Mercury, arguably the greatest lead singer of all time as a member of Queen with Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello).
The film is split between the process of the band making hits like the title song, “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “We Will Rock You,” and the personal life of Mercury. He is shown to have a long and loving relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), even after coming out as bisexual and pursuing relationships with men that would ultimately lead to him contracting HIV.
The film, credited to director Bryan Singer even though he was removed from the project, is a frustrating experience. While it hits the high points of the aforementioned songs well, delving more into how the same band released lighter tunes like “You’re My Best Friend” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” would have been nice to see. A cameo by Mike Myers as music label executive Ray Foster is fun, but his scenes seem to exist merely for him to make the obvious Wayne’s World reference.
The same goes for Mercury’s personal life. Writer Anthony McCarten includes lots of valuable scenes involving Mercury and Austin, his family, and other various friends and business associates. But, aside from his flamboyance and some diva-like behavior, he fails to show what made Mercury's life that much more interesting than those of his bandmates. The band’s eclectic music choices are shown to have been made together, so more detail on their actual process would have been preferable to the overkill on Mercury.
The performance scenes scattered throughout the film are good-to-great, but they also come with their own set of frustrations. Singer and/or replacement director Dexter Fletcher can’t seem to leave well enough alone and focus on Mercury and the rest of the band. This comes to a head in the climactic sequence showing their iconic appearance at Live Aid in 1985. Instead of zeroing in on Malek’s electric performance, the film shows way too many cheesy and pointless snippets of people in the crowd dancing.
And make no mistake, Malek is great. The teeth remain an issue throughout, but Malek overcomes them with a complete commitment to the role. We may not be hearing only him singing in the role, but he sells every inch of both the big and small moments. Also great are Lee as May and Allen Leech as Paul Prenter, a business associate/Mercury protector.
The power of Queen’s music and the Oscar-worthy performance of Malek are enough to make up for the lesser moments of Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s not as enlightening as some biopics, but that won’t stop you from wanting to sing along.