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Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Review

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) movie poster Bohemian Rhapsody

Theatrical Release: November 2, 2018 / Running Time: 133 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Bryan Singer / Writers: Anthony McCarten (story & screenplay), Peter Morgan (story)

Cast: Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury), Lucy Boynton (Mary Austin), Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Joe Mazzello (John Deacon), Aidan Gillen (John Reid), Tom Hollander (Jim Beach), Allen Leech (Paul Prenter), Aaron McCusker (Jim Hutton), Mike Myers (Ray Foster), Meneka Das (Jer Bulsara), Ace Bhatti (Bomi Bulsara), Priya Blackburn (Kashmira Bulsara), Dermot Murphy (Bob Geldof), Dickie Beau (Kenny Everett), Tim Plester (RT Baker)

 

The leading man's questionable dental prosthetics are the only teeth Bohemian Rhapsody has, but it still succeeds as a conventional biopic on the basis of a committed performance by star Rami Malek and the enduring music of Queen.

After eight years in development, most of which found "Borat" comedian Sacha Baron Cohen fittingly attached, this movie finally came about with X-Men director Bryan Singer at the helm and "Mr. Robot" Emmy winner Malek portraying Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
Singer would ultimately get fired late into production last year, not over the accusations that have dogged him for years but for just not showing up on set. Actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle) took over and finished the shoot without incident. Usually, a change in personnel is a troubling sign, but eleven months later, Fox's movie has opened with a staggering $51 million first weekend.

A movie about Queen inevitably must center on Mercury, the undisputed genius, heart, and soul of the band. As you might surmise from its title, though, the film is more interested in the music than the man. We get a glimpse of a young Mercury handling baggage at Heathrow Airport. Born Farrokh Bulsara, the future lead singer hails from a traditional Parsi family from Zanzibar. His parents don't have any idea about the life Freddie is about to embark on, nor do they really approve.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" dramatizes the lives and careers of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and Queen.

But a post-concert parking lot introduction and a spontaneous vocal display lays the foundation for Queen to be formed in 1970 London. The soon-renamed Mercury is complemented by guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), bassist John Deacon (Jurassic Park's Joseph Mazzello) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). The band quickly finds success with singles like "Keep Yourself Alive" and "Killer Queen", but they are met with some resistance from the record label (an unrecognizably made-up Mike Myers as a fictional executive) when Mercury pitches the concept album A Night at the Opera and insists that the convention-defying "Bohemian Rhapsody" be pushed as the standout single.

We know that history will side with the band, for whom that titular track remains the defining composition. The origins of other iconic tunes -- the stomp and clap inviting stadium jam "We Will Rock You", the bass-driven "Another One Bites the Dust" that became their best-selling single -- are dramatized here. Inevitably, after typical artistic collaboration tensions arise, the band comes to a crossroads when Mercury attempts a solo career. The film concludes with Queen reuniting for the 1985 Live Aid concert that is teased in the opening scenes, a performance for the ages, though the band would only perform together in full for another year.

While the movie pays little notice to the personal lives of three-fourths of the band, we do get to spend a fair amount of time with Mercury. His larger than life personality is an actor's challenge and one Malek relishes meeting while seizing this opportunity to sink his teeth into one of his first (and certainly his biggest) leading film roles. There are the cats, the flamboyant costumes, that mustache. But bigger than all that is his journey to self-discovery, as he reveals he's gay to Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) years into their marriage-like partnership.

The film opens and closes with a mustachioed, short-haired Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) electrifying the vast audience at 1985's Live-Aid concert.

The lifestyle that led to Mercury contracting AIDS is not glossed over, but it is largely left to the imagination in a production whose PG-13 rating now seems integral to its massive commercial success. Lawyer turned longtime manager Jim Beach (played by Tom Hollander) is a producer on this and you can imagine he's not keen on tarnishing the legacy of his biggest act, the surviving members of whom he still represents. The question over depictions was reportedly a subject that drove Baron Cohen to depart the project.
It's also been one of the most commonly cited concerns of my fellow critics, who feel that something is lost in sanitizing this bit of rock history for mass consumption.

Though I don't blame the PG-13 approach directly, Bohemian Rhapsody does opt to keep things fairly safe and formulaic, pinning its hopes that its lead performance and that music will be enough to win over moviegoers. Those hopes were well-founded because this is a pretty likable movie, one you wouldn't expect from the action-seasoned Singer (who retains solo credit here). The music is done justice in spirited performances that are captured as cinematically as they should be. Malek's Mercury flirts with caricature, but it seems to be appropriate given what we know and it's mighty endearing in the end.

You learn a little about Mercury and the band he led, but mostly Bohemian Rhapsody succeeds simply by paying tribute to the music and bringing it to life with palpable electricity.

The big opening weekend, supported by an approving "A" CinemaScore grade from moviegoers, can only help the film's award season chances after tepid reviews seemed to put an end to them. Curiously, Fox is apparently not taking the surest path to recognition, campaigning the film as a drama not a musical for the purposes of the Golden Globes. Thematically kindred perceived frontrunner A Star Is Born is taking the same approach and, tied to overwhelming criticla acclaim, its own substantial box office success suggests it could go the distance. But a Best Actor nomination for Malek is probably be the best-case scenario for this film and it would seem to be in its greatest interest to get into the historically less competitive Golden Globes categories and potentially winning before Oscar ballots are due.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: A Star Is Born Boy Erased Can You Ever Forgive Me? Dr. Seuss' The Grinch
Rami Malek: The Master Need for Speed Night at the Museum Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Directed by Bryan Singer: X-Men: Days of Future Past Jack the Giant Slayer
Written by Anthony McCarten: Darkest Hour The Theory of Everything | Written by Peter Morgan: The Queen Hereafter

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Reviewed November 9, 2018.



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