By Chic DiCiccio
Freddie Mercury was, by all accounts, an extremely promiscuous, hardcore drinker with a penchant for cocaine. He also happened to be an outwardly lovely person with some deep inner demons due to several personal and public reasons. In short, Freddie was a complex person who chose, whether personally or due to society’s pressures, to live most of his life behind closed doors.
That complexity is what makes “Bohemian Rhapsody” such a profound disappointment. This straight-forward biopic about the rise, fall and rebirth of rock band Queen airbrushes out almost all the warts to the unbelievable tune of a PG-13 rating. It is average at best and only Remi Malek’s truly devoted portrayal of Mercury stands out.
The fault probably lies with director Bryan Singer, who was fired with six weeks left of principal filming remaining due to on-set conflict with Malek.
Based on the lackadaisical, timid look of most of the film, Singer’s lack of vision could also have been a fireable offense.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” begins in 1970 just after guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) need to replace the lead singer/bass player of their band, Smile. An impromptu audition in a parking lot leads to the band bringing Freddie in and since he cannot play bass, they hire John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) to fill that role.
The movie only stops down for important landmarks in time with some more effective than others. Virtually all of the scenes with Lucy Boynton, as Freddie’s one-time wife and lifelong companion Mary Austin, are fantastic due to her performance and on-screen chemistry with Malek. These moments are sadly the only times when the movie truly shows Freddie’s conflict and daily struggle with the world around him.
One of the best moments in the movie is the band’s recording of the song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s fun, well edited and thrilling to watch the band realize they are creating something truly special. Sadly, that sequence is bookended by two of the most irritating, goofy scenes of the movie due to Mike Myers’ role as an EMI executive. This is brutally bad stunt casting and he’s so over the top that the only thing missing is Myers shouting, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap.”
The Anthony McCarten screenplay does cover Freddie’s sexual exploits and drug abuse. The reasons for Mercury’s contraction of AIDS are tastefully implied, but in a way that avoids preachiness or grossly stepping on his grave.
The rest of the script is borderline boilerplate-type stuff, but this section of Mercury’s life is covered as respectfully as it possibly could.
Naturally, Queen’s music provides all the highlights and the live show recreations are fantastic. The actors all look like natural musicians and even Malek’s lip syncing is perfect.
There is a rush of excitement watching May conduct the simple stomping and clapping of “We Will Rock You,” even if it feels like we just stopped by for a moment to watch it happen.
The final 20 minutes of “Bohemian Rhapsody” are reason enough to see the movie. This shot-for-shot recreation of Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance is truly an amazing cinematic achievement. Malek dominates the stage as Mercury, stomping and dancing as the crowd eats up every second. If only the creative team strutted as confidently as Malek, maybe then we would have a worthy epic for a truly larger than life band.