Bohemian Rhapsody Review

Queen, and especially its lead singer Freddie Mercury, is the stuff of rock ’n roll legend. More so than peel back the curtain on that legend, “Bohemian Rhapsody” perpetuates it, celebrating the band’s incredible, genre-defying music and most of all its flamboyant and inimitable frontman.

Most “making of the band” stories follow a similar arc, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is no exception. The tropes of taking huge risks, defying big-wig producers, band in-fighting and a diva lead singer who parties too much are all part of Queen’s narrative, posing a particular challenge for British screenwriting veterans Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan: What actually made Queen special?

The answer is the music. No one has, and ever will again, write a 6-minute rock operetta like “Bohemian Rhapsody.” So the film highlights their greatest hits, alternating music-focused scenes with the telling of Mercury’s story. Each scene has value independently, but these professional and personal threads don’t really connect. Other than “Love of My Life,” which is a song about Mercury’s fiancé in the early part of his career, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), we don’t get a window into the songwriting process or what inspired any of Queen’s remarkable lyrics.

Both in biographical and musical scenes, however, Rami Malek is a total gem as Mercury. One can’t just assume that role, but must aggressively step into it, and Malek captures the utter magnetism of Mercury’s stage performance, as well as the nuance of his off-stage attitude and behavior. Mercury’s movements are specific, and his vocal range impossible to replicate, but somehow with the right choreography training, a blend of voices and some facial prosthetics, “Bohemian Rhapsody” gets the key details right, at least those details most critical to the experience of Mercury and Queen.

As for Mercury’s personal life, one can’t help but feel certain liberties were taken. The way the film culminates with the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985 necessitates that the chronology of the story get shifted around a bit to address issues regarding Mercury’s relationship with his parents, his sexuality, and his HIV/AIDS diagnosis. The film doesn’t dig deeply enough into any of these things to create any meaningful emotional connection to Mercury’s personal struggles. Then again, giving them the attention they need would probably have resulted in a film that’s a lot less fun.

So “Bohemian Rhapsody” succeeds most in its musical moments, which are bolstered by some fantastic editing. With the exception of Live Aid, which is filmed with its own unique gusto, the musical snippets usually don’t stay put, incorporating montage to keep the story moving forward. In general, the film struggles to stay in one place long enough to hook us, but before that means anything, a new musical moment captures our attention and excitement. The songs are just that iconic. 

The film’s deepest insight is that Queen’s music was truly about the people. The audience participation elements and sing-ability of their songs was unique and unparalleled, at least among rock ’n roll bands. The film taps perfectly into how special the songs were—anyone who has ever connected with a Queen song or sang one at the top of their lungs will be reminded of that connection in a fairly poignant way.

3.5/5 Stars

Bohemian Rhapsody
Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Anthony McCarten (screenplay & story), Peter Morgan (story)
Starring: Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Lucy Boynton, Tom Hollander


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