When I left the cinema, I first had to take a deep breath and get back to the real world. Bohemian Rhapsody sucks you right into the 1970s and 80s and will only let you go after a breath-taking finale. And that was an astonishing feat given the immensely high expectations people are bound to have for a biopic portraying the story of this legendary and ground-breaking rock band and their iconic lead singer.
The film starts in the 1970s and shows Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek, Mr. Robot), descendant of a Parsi family from Zanzibar, struggling to express himself like he wants to. His conservative father is very skeptical of his extravagant style but Freddie, as he calls himself now, does not care and goes see a gig from a band called Smile, which he has been following for a while. As chance would have it, right before he comes speak to them, their lead singer has left the band and even though Brian May and Roger Taylor are very frustrated, flamboyant Freddie offers himself and manages to convince them pretty easily with his impressive vocal range.
What follows is their rise to success. One may argue that there are elements typical of an underdog story. However, I deem this part of the movie not generic at all, as it portrays Queen’s unconventional take on recording music as well as the confrontations they had to go through in order to convince everyone of their ingenuity. The former, actual sequences in the recording studio, are crucial in such a movie and are very insightful, even if the movie takes its artistic license here and there. Particularly the recording of ‘A Night at the Opera’ shows in a long sequence, as hilarious as it is interesting, how the eponymous song and one of the most unique pieces of music was created. You get a real grip on the band’s attitude and also on the dynamic among the band members, as they make sure to include much of both the playful banter and the real arguments. Hardcore fans might be disappointed that this is actually rather a Freddie Mercury biopic than a Queen biopic and I can understand. However, I believe that this movie would have been way too long otherwise and I’m rather certain that large parts of the audience would have wished to return to Freddie, had the movie chosen to shed more light on May, Taylor or Deacon. I feel the movie expressed aptly that they had a co-dependent relationship and that many ideas did not originate in Mercury’s mind.
Along these lines, one of the aspects I appreciate about the movie is the decision to not just worship this ingenious performer but also include the hideous sides of his personality. As success gets to Freddie’s head, he becomes a conceited prick and the movie does not hesitate to demonstrate what a piece of work he could be. Freddie numbs his mind “in the in-between moments” with an insane amount of drugs and his excessive and promiscuous lifestyle. The band’s initial harmony falls victim to his delusions of grandeur and his lack of respect, leading to the intermittent breakup. Many people would have liked to see the next stretch showing Freddie’s time in Munich, where his excessive lifestyle really escalated, more fleshed out, especially since, at that time, the public was aware of the rumors. This is the only point of criticism I really share: The movie does not dare to include any wild parties, not to mention gay sex, possibly to protect the image of its protagonist and probably not to scare off the (to a great extent) prudish American audiences.
However, Freddie’s sexual identity is addressed in the movie. We see Freddie questioning himself on tour, his difficult relationship to Mary and his encounters with different men as well as the media pressing for concrete information. His struggles come across rather well, even if his actual sexual identity appears to have been a little more complicated than just ‘gay.’ Another very small scene that contributes greatly to the image of this performer able to enrapture audiences takes place in the hospital after he gets his AIDS diagnosis.
This ability is also aptly portrayed in the phenomenal finale at Live Aid. In addition to the competent direction and the surprisingly good CGI crowd effects, the sequence benefits greatly from the inherent tragedy of Mercury knowing about his somewhat imminent death and his quest to reconcile with his loved ones prior to the concert (and I don’t give a rat’s ass that his AIDS confession to the band did not happen until much later in real life; this is good storytelling). In the last third, my eyes watered up multiple times (“Who wants to live forever?”, his estranged father hugging him) and when the concert started, I couldn’t hold it any longer. It was an emotional rollercoaster, ranging from having intense goosebumps at every song to crying at “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “We are the Champions,” which gets a whole other layer of meaning with the story leading up to this grand climax. With hindsight, it is even more impressive how minutely they reconstructed the Live Aid performance and adapted the movie’s choreography as accurately as possible. I know that because, of course, this sequence, one of the most epic and visceral finales I have ever experienced, made me more than intrigued about the real concert, which I didn’t have a good recollection of.
One of the movie’s biggest merits is its emotionality without ever being conspicuous and its ability to make it immensely relatable despite such a supposedly unrelatable protagonist and subject matter. This largely stems from Rami Malek’s outstanding performance, as he puts heart and soul into the rule and captures Mercury’s sass and flamboyance as well as the gravitas that Mercury radiates and that every room he’s in is pervaded by. This is a once-in-a-lifetime performance worthy of every award recognition and will probably remain his magnum opus as I don’t see him improving on that performance in any other role. On stage, he lip-syncs the shit out of the songs, as no one can surpass Mercury’s vocals and their goal was for the audience “to hear as much Freddy as possible,” meaning that there is no Malek on the soundtrack. Speaking of, the phenomenal soundtrack (which I’m listening to while writing this text) comprises all the great hits, which I wasn’t entirely aware I knew this well (nor was I aware there were that many of them), to an extent that two of their hits had to be pushed into the credits, but they made a very fitting choice for those two songs. I also find it perfectly appropriate that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is never fully featured, given how much and how often it occurs in the movie. I also liked the casting for the other band members as well as for Mary (Lucy Boynton, Sing Street), John Reid (Game of Thrones‘s Aidan Gillen), among others.
So I can only encourage everyone to seek out this movie in theaters, as this definitely enhances the viewing experience, especially for the scale of a sequence like the finale. Even the second watch wasn’t any less intense for me. Bohemian Rhapsody is a very well-paced movie making you constantly tap your feet, with a superb leading performance, an emotional journey and a finale for the ages.
all images (including title image) © by 20th Century Fox, taken from their official German website