Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer, 2018) 2½ out 4 stars.
Rami Malek, star of the hit show Mr. Robot, takes a hold of the daunting responsibility of portraying rock ‘n roll icon and frontman of legendary band Queen, Freddie Mercury, in Bryan Singer’s biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Before adoring fans chanted his name and sang his songs back to him, Freddie Mercury was a young British man in the early 1970s who was searching for his calling in life and wanted a true identity he could mold into something bold and transcendent. Freddie’s parents refused to see the future he had envisioned and his job at the local airport also couldn’t keep him grounded. Determined to set his life on the right path, the young Freddie Mercury introduces himself to his future bandmates Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon and from there these men take the world by storm and rock it to its core.
Rami Malek gives a sublime and well-rounded performance that quells any doubt a moviegoer or Queen fan may have about his obvious physical differences to the real Freddie Mercury. While Sacha Baron Cohen, the original casting choice for Mercury, would’ve looked better in the part, it’s important to understand that the real success of an actor fooling the audience into seeing the character they are portraying on screen instead of themselves does not rest solely on physicality. An actor of Malek’s caliber is utilizing a hundred and one things from his own life and Mercury’s life to make his character, real or not, full realized. In time Queen historians and the men and women who knew Mercury personally will give more credible judgments on Malek’s portrayal and whether or not he went too far or didn’t go far enough. For now, in this critic’s eyes, Rami Malek is the embodiment of Freddie Mercury.
Bohemian Rhapsody puts in all the efforts it can muster to offer viewers a balanced and satisfying story of Queen’s music and the genius craft that occurred in the recording studios and the controversies and identity crises that plagued Freddie Mercury’s life. The dramatic turmoil that arises in these sections is palpable and offers new and exciting insights, but the connective tissue in between is wet and mushy. The societal consequences of Mercury’s sexuality and the explosive success of Queen casually mingle with one another instead of crashing like two atoms in the Large Hadron Collider, a direction which would have turned Bohemian Rhapsody into the fantastical rock opera we want, to measure up to the Queen song of the same name. The only part of the film that comes close to the energy and synergy of Queen and its fans is the 1985 Live Aid concert sequence.
Bohemian Rhapsody never utilizes the maverick nature of a band like Queen to shake up the tried-and-true formula of the Hollywood biopic. The trials and tribulations and triumphs are the same, but Malek and the supporting cast, including Lucy Boynton as Mercury’s first love Mary Austin and Gwilym Lee as Queen guitarist Brian May, come together and hone in a level of pathos for the Queen and Freddie Mercury story that some people will find unexpected.