By Gabby Oliver
Bohemian Rhapsody is the newest and flashiest biopic about the rise of legendary rock band Queen, centered around their lead singer Freddie Mercury. In two hours and fifteen minutes, we see how Queen formed, how they found their voice, how their experimental ways of making music made them famous, and what ultimately led them to their most legendary performance at Live Aid.
Bohemian Rhapsody, named after the band’s most recognizable song, opens on Mercury getting ready to perform at Live Aid, the 1985 benefit concert to raise money for the famine in Ethiopia. It starts and ends with Live Aid, and in between we are shown everything leading up to that pivotal moment. We see how the band members, a bunch of misfits, get together and through the genius of Freddie Mercury, land themselves a record deal and a spot on the charts. The camerawork throughout is absolutely stunning and the music is moving. Also, I loved the casting of Mike Myers as the record label producer, which is a genius allusion to his film Wayne’s World. Wayne’s World was released in 1992, the year following Freddie Mercury’s passing from an illness relating to his Aids diagnosis a few years prior. In the film, the record label producer tells Mercury that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a song that cannot be headbanged to. In Wayne’s World, there is a scene where the boys are in the car headbanging to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I greatly appreciated that little allusion.
The film also reveals Freddie Mercury’s internal struggles. Like he sang so many times, his rise to fame “was no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise”. Constant partying, drinking and doing drugs distanced him from his bandmates. He falls madly in love with Mary Austin and later on is worn down by his struggle with his sexuality. His internal battles almost cost him his career, but as we see in the film, it never stopped him from being the greatest entertainer of his time.
The acting in the film is something to be praised and revered. Rami Malek, who played Freddie Mercury, gives a career-defining performance. The chemistry between Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton, who played Mary Austin, is astounding, capturing the amazing, lifelong relationship the two had. Band members Roger Taylor and Brian May, also prominent figures in the movie, are played incredibly by Ben Hardy and Gwilym Lee, respectively. The fourth band member, John Deacon, played by Joseph Mazzello, is a minor character in comparison to the other band mates. Roger Taylor and Brian May supervised the production of Bohemian Rhapsody, which may be why their characters were played up more than Deacon’s was. It would be wrong not to praise the hair, wardrobe and makeup teams who were able to make the actors look so similar to the band members they were playing, especially with Freddie Mercury. At some points, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t watching the real Freddie Mercury.
Since the November 2 release date, many critics have written somewhat negative reviews about Bohemian Rhapsody, which seem harsh for such an incredible movie in my opinion. I agree that they underplayed Freddie’s struggle with drugs and his sexuality, but it was still touched upon and understood. Unfortunately, that was the culture of the 70s and 80s – rockstars drank, did drugs and partied. But that wasn’t what defined Mercury, so why would they overplay that? This movie shouldn’t be about tarnishing Mercury’s reputation or exposing scandals, it’s about telling his story. Also, I find it interesting that the same outlets that trashed both the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” as well as the band in the 70s have come back to say that the movie didn’t “capture the greatness of Freddie Mercury”. In the New York Times’ review of Bohemian Rhapsody, they write, “Neither, however, does the film come close to capturing the glorious and unlikely artifice of Queen itself, a band whose scrambling of sexual and musical codes remains a remarkable phenomenon in the history of popular culture.” When “Bohemian Rhapsody” was released as a single in 1975, The New York Times wrote, “Lyrically, Queen’s songs manage to be pretentious and irrelevant. Musically, for all the virtuosity—though it was cheating a bit to turn over the complex middle portion of their ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to a taped version, with empty stage and flashing lights—the songs still sound mostly pretty empty, all flash and calculation.” So what is it, NYT? Do you love them or hate them?
If you want Freddie’s dark secrets, sorry to disappoint. I wouldn’t consider you a true fan of Queen if you were only looking for scandals. If you want 2 hours and 15 minutes of Queen music, talent, terrific camerawork and acting and a great story, look no further. This is a story of music, life, love, and tragedy, and I loved every second of it. I cannot wait to see it again.