Review: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (who wants to live forever)

A breathtaking performance.

In London 1970, the departure of a small-town band’s lead singer becomes an opportunity for songwriter Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek), better known later by his professional name “Freddie Mercury.” With original band mates Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), the group became “Queen” and struck out to make their mark on rock history. Using cross-genre originality and concept albums to stand out, the group navigates the shark-invested waters of record producers intent on playing-it-safe and limiting their vision. Freddie faces his own revelations to make right with himself and those around him, culminating in a legendary set to an international audience for Live Aid in 1985.

Credited to Bryan Singer as director before his falling out with Fox studios and completed by Damien Chazelle, Bohemian Rhapsody chronicles the rise of a band from obscurity to the big time and their trials along the way. While following the same beats as similar biopics to rise, break up, and get back together, no other band is Queen and no other singer is Freddie. With a questionable script regarding authenticity in addition to recasting their lead, is the final cut of the tumultuous production worthy of the band that inspired it?

While Rhapsody treads lightly, even casting Mike Myers ironically as fictional EMI producer bad-guy Ray Foster to wink at the audience, the message couldn’t be clearer. The film is polarizing amongst its critics: those who enjoy it for what it is and those who feel it skews to paint Freddie Mercury unfavorably (read: punish him) for his so-called wicked ways… or perhaps make the surviving band members look better. It’s true the film couldn’t have been made without the blessings of Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon to secure music rights for the production, but anyone having seen Queen in concert recently (fronted by Adam Lambert who also has a cameo in the film) must have a sense that Freddie is fully respected and not just being played to audience expectations.

If one approaches the film as a celebration, it works as an inspiration for accepting family (biological or tribal) regardless of its flaws. The script downplays the true horror of AIDS and sanitizes irresponsible behavior — read: avoiding an R rating. It also champions conflict as a process: the love and respect that exists even when aggressively challenged so that creativity may blossom. By the time the film loops back around to the 1985 Live Aid performance where it starts, each song of the historic set holds specific meaning — clearly a creative choice since life doesn’t really work like that, but storytellers and listeners prefer to pretend that it does.

With so much music history, the 135-minutes running still left no time to consider the creativity behind Queen’s soundtrack work for Flash Gordon and ends before exploration of the Highlander crossover with the “A Kind of Magic” album. Still, fans can expect their money’s worth between the eerie and exemplary portrayal by Malik and the scripted biopic showcasing how several classic songs came together. The story squeezes the most positive message out of a collaboration cut tragically short: Freddie is missed and was loved, but the show must go on.

Bohemian Rhapsody is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language, and no judgement.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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