t press time, it's been announced that BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY has made some serious bank, grossing $72 million in the International box office, and having just come out of the movie theater, I'm not at all surprised. The QUEEN biopic did what it was supposed to do in ensuring that the legendary band's brand prospers and that we as the audience rush home and start blasting WE WILL ROCK YOU / WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS on PANDORA or SPOTIFY. Should you wish to write this off as cynicism on my part, just remember that guitarist BRIAN MAY and drummer ROGER TAYLOR are both credited as executive producers of the film which had a rocky production history in front of and behind the camera. SASHA BARON COHEN was initially tagged with playing the role of FREDDIE MERCURY to the eventual dismay of the surviving band members, which resulted in COHEN leaving the project due to creative differences. While director BRYAN SINGER was fired from the project and replaced by DEXTER FLETCHER, it is SINGER who maintains the director credit.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY feels less like a warts-and-all rock biography and more like a lavish medley of QUEEN's bombastic catalog that any fan could've pasted together and shared on YOUTUBE, but a fan would've kept the thing chronologically accurate. While RAMI MALEK shines in a portrayal of MERCURY that goes beyond mere dress up, the film and the band's most fascinating figure gets lost in all of the rah rah rah, which wouldn't have been so bad if the rah rah rah wasn't so concerned with playing it safe.
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The film is bookended by the legendary LIVE AID concert in the summer of 1985. Before MERCURY takes to the stage before an audience of tens of thousands in WEMBLEY STADIUM, the film flashes back to the year 1970 when MERCURY was FARROKH BULSARA - a son of Parsi immigrants who works as a luggage handler at London's Heathrow Airport and lives in a small rowhouse with his parents and sister. There is clearly some undefined tension between the future rock star and his father but as soon as the conflict is introduced it is dropped as young FARROKH runs off to catch a performance by his favorite local band SMILE. As enraptured as he is by the band, he also becomes smitten by fellow show attendee MARY AUSTIN (LUCY BOYNTON). At that same show, the lead singer of SMILE unceremoniously leaves the band leaving MAY (a spot on GWILYM LEE) and TAYLOR (BEN HARDY) to question their future as musicians. FARROKH turns on the charm with his alter ego FREDDIE and before long, SMILE becomes QUEEN with the addition of bass player JOHN DEACON (JOSEPH MAZZELLO).
FARROKH/FREDDIE announces his official name change to FREDDIE MERCURY at his birthday party attended by the band, girlfriend MARY and his parents. It is here that we learn that the rift between father and son has to do with MERCURY turning his back on his Parsi heritage in favor of an identity that is more hedonistic, and at odds with the family's Zoroastrian faith. Once again, as the conflict between father and son is introduced, the matter is dropped, this time in favor of news that EMI RECORDS is interested in signing the band.
The life of FREDDIE MERCURY is one of those Homeric stories that comes around every once in a great while in rock n roll. It's the story of a snaggle toothed, bisexual outsider who dreamed big and became one of rock n roll's biggest, baddest and sassiest front men with the gusto PAUL RODGERS, the pipes of ROBERT PLANT, the theatricality of LIZA MINELLI and the tragedy of JUDY GARLAND. The waning of his stardom was marked by seclusion and illness. It's a life with all of the hallmarks for great drama, so why the hell doesn't this movie deliver in that respect?
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I place the blame at the feet of the film's executive producers BRIAN MAY and ROGER TAYLOR who have clearly designed the film to push the QUEEN catalog as opposed to telling a truly riveting biography. Given their proximity to MERCURY, one would've expected a more hagiographical account, but instead MERCURY is portrayed as a decadent slut who brought the band to the brink thanks to his attachment to lover, bad influence and slimeball manager PAUL PRENTER (ALLEN LEECH). Even MERCURY's legendary sexuality is introduced late to the film as the band is touring America for the first time. As the number of backstage dalliances increases, MERCURY's seemingly convenient wife MARY can take no more, though the two maintain a close bond beyond the films conclusion. MERCURY's accomplishments as a figure and a force in rock music are known the world over, but with BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, the man behind the stage persona never gets to reveal himself, but this is no fault of RAMI MALEK. Thanks to MALEK, MERCURY comes to life on the big screen with a performance that is larger-than-life with the right mixture of wit, pathos and bitchery. MALEK brings a presence that isn't to dissimilar from a super hero out of the MARVEL COMIC UNIVERSE.
If the film doesn't engage biographically, at least we've got the music and some humorous banter amongst band as they lay down the groundwork for such rock classics as WE WILL ROCK YOU, ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST and of course the six-minute masterpiece serving as the film's namesake. Being the rock n roll trivia guy that I am, I found myself annoyed at the hit songs being rolled out at the wrong time in the band's career. (FAT BOTTOMED GIRLS was a couple of years after BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and WE WILL ROCK YOU came out in 1977 and not 1980).
After having sunk into an abyss of non-stop sex and partying and receiving a surprise visit from MARY shaming him for turning his back on QUEEN, MERCURY comes back to the fold of the band so that they may be a part of the LIVE AID extravaganza. During a rehearsal, MERCURY announces to the band that he has AIDS which makes their upcoming stint at LIVE AID all the more important to the legacy of the band - and cinematically, it becomes a major payoff. We may not have gotten the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but we get a spirited re-enactment of the band's performance at LIVE AID giving MALEK the chance to victoriously sashay across the stage and ham it up deliciously before an audience of tens of thousands. This was the goal of the executive producers - to drive home the fact that QUEEN was a stadium rock force to be reckoned with and that is the long and short of it. I must disagree and say that there is more to the story, but who cares? I don't see the producer's approach hurting ticket sales or preventing BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY from becoming a classic biopic.
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