Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek with those prosthetic extra teeth gives the highly energetic and incredibly influential flamboyance of rock god Freddie Mercury all it needs in Bryan Singer’s biopic on the front man of legendary rock band Queen in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY.
Does this bravura of a performance by Rami Malek which is infectious from the first frame till the very end in the movie sets you free and rocks you as the majestic Freddie Mercury did with his family – the rock band Queen…let’s find out.
Writer Anthony McCarten (DARKEST HOUR) opens with Freddie Mercury warming up for the historic Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985. A cut to flashback and we are introduced to the shy buck-toothed Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek), son of Parsis parents settled in UK. Farrokh gets a fatherly tip on ‘good thoughts, good words, good deeds’ but the swaggering Farrokh questions the authenticity of such an idea and we see him at a pub following his band Smile. Farrokh introduces himself as Freddie to the band’s guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). The band has lost their lead singer and sensing an opportunity, Freddie croons in front of Brian and Roger and gets hired. In series of events that appear like sheer coincidence and/or preplanned dots arranged to be jointed, we see a sudden rise of this band which gets its name, fame and foreign tours like a snap. The struggle of band like Queen that has defied norms, their artistic journey gets restricted to an amusing sequence with a music label executive played by Mike Myers where the band members vouch for their iconic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ before and after the recording. The conventional sugar coating of the journey of Freddie Mercury and the rise of Queen is said in lines which goes like “We’ll mix genres and cross boundaries!” (is it real or fantasy?!). Is this the way Queen’s iconic number “Bohemian Rhapsody,” got originated?.
Bryan Singer’s conventional approach to a rock band and its lead singer’s journey which has been unconventional, controversial and dark is so formulaic and old school. How ironic, Rami Malek’s career best act on one hand where Freddie literally comes back on screen talking, singing and performing is placed in a cursory biopic where the actor is unaware whether the movie is giving proper justice to the icon he is playing and the movie is less bothered about the ‘real’ effort put by the actor in making this middle road kind of biopic find some stimulation as Queen’s performances in real life.
It is said that the director Bryan Singer was fired toward the end of shooting for not showing up on set and Dexter Fletcher completed the remaining shoot, but the damage might have been already done beyond repair and Bryan Singer remains officially credited as the director.
Anthony McCarten’s script may not have spoken many lies but it has played very safe and ignored the dark sides and given just winks on things we all wanted to know. Freddie Mercury was born to a Parsi family from Zanzibar, Mercury has spend a good time in India, he spend his childhood in India, nothing on this front gets explored. Why Freddie opted to stay away from talking about his Asian roots and childhood days in India, why Mercury was not open about his sexuality in public, Mercury relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) comes naturally in the beginning which is digestible but later when Mercury discovers that he is a bisexual and its circa 70’s, we don,t experience the conflict surrounding Mercury and the world around. We see all is happening and was the wicked Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) – the manger of Mercury instrumental in Mercury finding his true sexual orientation?. Was Mercury colourful and flamboyant in real life as well?, The makers try to answer the sexual orientation question with a party sequence where other band members Brian May, Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) are present but appear ‘misfit’. The band members leave and one of them says, “This isn’t really our scene, Freddie.”. Mercury’s hide and seek with himself fails to get the desired in depth.
The makers stick to the familiar celebrity, stardom associated clichés, isolations, influence of chemicals etc. A Queen, rock music and/or a Mercury fan will be more interested in knowing how this legendary band made its music, and that arresting felling is missing. The Aids episode could have been exploited giving the biopic further layers but it is used as a gimmick and lacks intensity. The actors have given its all, apart from Rami Malek’s career best act, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Allen Leech and Lucy Boynton chip in with valuable support.
May be the makers in their enthusiasm to make BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY not an ‘A’ rated product omit those dark sides and fail in the biopic of Mercury ‘break free’ (the song by the band sung by Lisa Stansfield, was banned by MTV and other platforms as the music video showed the band members dressed in women’s clothes, a concept proposed by Roger Taylor) and make a ‘safe and easy’ biopic.
But as we say, all well that ends well, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY rocks in the end when it concludes with a song-by-song recreation of the band’s reunion show at the historic 1985 Live Aid concert which underlines the power of Queen’s music and Mercury/Malek’s out of the world stage performance that ‘rocks you’ like Queen’s magnificent stage presence during its hey days. This ‘safe and easy’ biopic which may not be remembered but Malek as Mercury will rock for ages as Queen and its music does. Going with a generous three only for Mercury, Queen’s music and Rami Malek.