‘Is this the real life?’ ‘Is this just fantasy?’ This is a big question to answer but I do know there is ‘no escape from reality!!’ – And I also know it’s taken me almost two weeks to write about this – even though I feel like I’ve been non-stop talking about it to others online and everywhere of how much I loved it. Even though it’s been a bit, I wanted to wait to release date here in the US to put the review out there. It’s clear at this point many do not, and each person definitely gets their own opinion. Haters are gonna hate and nitpick to find something wrong with anything. And because of the much publicized problems in the making of this movie, I think many are walking into it with the mindset of wanting to dissect it and hate it. But as Freddy would say – on with the show and here, for better or worse, is my two cents view/review!
Freddie Mercury is undeniably a legendary rock god of song. With his 4-octave voice and operatic performances, the artist made Queen, one of the most prodigious rock bands in the history of music. Not to mention Brian May’s riffs. The cinema world has been slow to to recognize this fact, and for me, remiss to tell the remarkable story of the oft blend of music they produced. A story of the band..and the person.. as a more beautiful or tragic tale of Mercury’s life has really never been told except in documentary style. Finally, we get Bohemian Rhapsody– where Rami Malek has the heavy task of playing this legendary and somewhat controversial singer.
There are those who view this a simply frustratingly superficial biopic of the rock-band Queen, one that glosses over the more complex and decadent aspects of lead singer Freddie Mercury’s life. Then there are others who embrace what the makers clearly intended it to be – a warm-hearted crowd-pleaser that revels in the band as a creative force, with emphasis on its charismatic frontman. I’m in the latter portion of this group. I went to a media screening almost two weeks ago and – while acknowledging some of its detractors’ points – I had an undeniably great time along with a whole theatre of people who laughed, cried, got chills and were ROCKED to the soles of our feet.
Plot-wise the film is standard, charting Queen’s stellar ascent, while providing a degree of insight into the lead singer’s turbulent live, both personal and with his band. It kicks off around the time the young Farrokh Bulsara aka Freddie Mercury who is living with his immigrant Parsi family in Middlesex at the time, meets lead guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and in the most cheeky of ways, invites himself into their band ‘Smile’. The evolution of Smile into “Queen” and Farrokh into magnetic stage performer Freddie is charted ever so swiftly in the first part of the film, as is the vocalist’s relationship with girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) – the woman who would end up being his closest lifelong friend. But there are tensions too. Mercury’s conflict regarding his sexuality throws his personal life into turmoil, while excess and ego put him at odds with his bandmates and record company.
But make no mistake as to what the film is. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a big, brash entertainment that hits all the highlights of Queen’s career – from the creation of the movie’s title song to the band’s triumphant Live Aid performance in 1985. With Dexter Fletcher having replaced Bryan Singer as director partway through the shoot, it still manages to be a slick and seamless piece of film making, at its most thrilling during the dynamic on-stage sequences. There’s an easy and often funny sense of camaraderie between the Queen members, although the others are really only sketched – May for all his iconic guitar sound is the calm voice of reason, Taylor gets the womanizer label and bassist John Deacon the quiet endearing one. Meanwhile the band’s lawyer Jim ‘Miami’ Beach (Tom Hollander) a sort of ‘5th member’ adds some scene-stealing deadpan humour that breaks up the some of the more tense moments giving you a chance to have a laugh also.
I’ve always believed the true essence of success of any band and/or great artist isn’t always the multi platinum albums or the record deals or the fame, but it’s quite possibly that moment when a crowd of a hundred thousand people sing back your song in unison which must be totally euphoric and empowering feeling to have. Watching that, as I did during the Live Aid concert gave me chills and fill with glowing warmth to the point that I will never see it the same view again.
But this show belongs without argument to Rami Malek as Mercury. Malek physically and vocally transforms himself into the singer. When he struts about the stage wielding his mike-stand and hyping up the crowd, it feels less an impersonation and more a channeling of the actual Freddie – intoxicating and joyous like the real deal. He convinces as the character elsewhere too. His wrangles with his band-mates nicely convey the clash between middle-class student rockers and this flamboyant working-class immigrant. And the scenes with Mary are heartfelt and at times painfully sad. If the script only hints at Mercury’s isolation and at his fear once HIV becomes a part of his life, Malek’s performance does much to convey the rest. All the supporting cast do so well. Gwilym Lee as Brian May, made me feel at times while watching that he was May – that is how astoundingly much he looked the part. Mazello and Hardy as Deacon & Taylor – were simply icing on the cake of how much they came across as this legendary band.
The production’s pursuit of a ‘friendly rating’ admittedly also means that much of Freddie’s crazy lifestyle is only alluded to, and that’s fine. And while the film does convey the tragedy of his illness and early passing, it does forego much of his most probable in-depth AIDS battle in favour of a victorious concert ending. But I get it, it’s not a film about that or that he broke my heart by not informing us till two days before his passing. Bohemian Rhapsody never pretends to be anything more than a celebration of the man and the band – a music-heavy reminder of what a potent and quite ingenious combination they were, whatever the personal conflicts of their lead singer. I have a few wonderful stories of my own of Freddie & Queen and this brought everyone of those fantastic memories back for me.
And while I am aware that this wasn’t the ‘digging deep’ movie that some might have wanted – and honestly if you want every moment in there, this film would be 5 hours long, but instead it swept right along pacing each moment with something you needed to know.. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it gave me chills and most of all – it made me miss Fred and it damn well rocked me.
Media Review Screening: Monday, October 22, 2018 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
BOEHMIAN RHAPSODY IS NOW PLAYING WORLDWIDE – SEE THIS MOVIE