The music of Queen has permeated my entire life. My parents were fans and even though a requirement of growing up is you reject the things your parents like, Queen was just too cool for me to kick to the curb. I even passed the bug on to my own kids who happily sing along to “Another One Bites the Dust” or “We Are the Champions” whenever they come on the radio.
All of this is to say I am way too close to objectively review a movie about the band and their charismatic front-man Freddie Mercury. I found “Bohemian Rhapsody” to be joyful and enthralling, led by a wax-museum-worthy performance by Rami Malek as Mercury. But, I’m not at all convinced it is a good movie.
Helmed by Bryan Singer, a highly competent director by any metric, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is about as safe and conventional a musical biopic as you will find. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but when you’re talking about a movie about a band as daring and experimental as Queen, this almost feels like a disservice.
Fortunately, the band’s music and story are powerful enough to blast through and pull you in.
We meet Mercury when he was still known as Farrokh Bulsara, the son of Parsi immigrants, and working as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport, in London.
It’s not long after he meets Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), and the band begins their steady climb to stardom behind Mercury’s soaring vocals and flamboyant onstage persona.
We get the tried and true rock ‘n roll story arc with the rise from obscurity topped with excesses of fame and fortune on to ruin and humbling followed by a final grand redemption.
As this formula plays out, some of the joy gets drained out of the movie. But, when the music is front and center, the thrill quickly returns. Moments in the studio as these four wildly different personalities gleefully tinker with iconic songs are pure magic.
Unfortunately, Singer reverts to melodrama for the movie’s bass note and Mercury’s complex personal life involving romantic relationships with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) and Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) too often become the sole focus of the film.
The movie regains its footing after Mercury learns he’s contracted AIDS and wrestles with the personal and public implications of his disease and his sexuality. The movie culminates in the band’s triumphant Live Aid performance, which gets recreated almost in its entirety. It would be easy to criticize Singer for dedicating a huge chunk of the movie to something anyone with access to YouTube can enjoy, but he earns the moment and it is fitting Queen’s music is given center stage to top off the film.
As a fan of this band, it would be easy to be disappointed their movie is not a grand cinematic triumph. But, the fact there is a movie about Queen at all and it’s pretty decent is good enough for me. You learn to take what you can get.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content, and language.