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edge staff writer


‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ will rock you

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You never know what you’re going to get with a biopic. Telling the stories of real-life people in a manner that is both narratively engaging and at least moderately truthful involves a lot of delicate decision-making … and results vary.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is one such biopic, relating the story of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. It doesn’t reach the heights of the genre’s best, but nor does it wallow in hagiography. It’s a bit too pat in some spots, a bit too muddy in others and there are some rather glaring omissions. But for all its relative fast-and-looseness with the truth, it serves as a lovely look back at one of popular music’s most compelling figures – a paean to a rock god.

The film starts in 1970. Young Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek, TV’s “Mr. Robot”) is living with his parents in London, going to school for design and working as a baggage handler at Heathrow. He’s pursuing … something. He’s not sure what it is he wants, but he knows he is destined for greatness. Fate intervenes one night when he happens upon the immediate aftermath of a band breakup. It’s here that he first meets guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee, “The Last Witness”) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy, “Mary Shelley”); he dazzles them with his vocal prowess and convinces them to let him be in a band with them.

After adding bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello, “Undrafted”) to the mix, Queen is born – as is Freddie Mercury when Farrokh changes his name. The band quickly starts gaining traction in the London music scene, combining their musicianship with Freddie’s incredible vocal versatility and flamboyant stage presence. Along the way, Freddie falls in love with – and eventually marries – Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton, “Apostle”).

It’s not long before Queen starts attracting major label attention. With the help of manager John Reid (Aidan Gillen, “Maze Runner: The Death Cure”), the band releases popular albums with EMI. However, Queen parts ways with EMI when executive Ray Foster (Mike Myers, TV’s “The Gong Show”) refuses to release the groundbreaking “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the first single from “A Night at the Opera.”

The song was a smash and Queen embarked on a world tour. It was here that Freddie’s sexual proclivities really began to come to the surface, leading to an affair with his personal manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech, “The Hunter’s Prayer”) and an end to his marriage, though he and Mary remained close – she held him blameless for the realities of his sexuality.

The band’s success continues into the 1980s, despite some growing tension with regards to the band’s musical direction and Freddie’s attitude. It all boils over when Freddie accepts an offer to record two solo records without consulting the band, leading to a breakup. He jets off to Munich, where he works on the album and is increasingly isolated by the jealous, paranoid Prenter. It is in this period where Freddie’s zealous excesses likely led to his contraction of AIDS.

It’s not until Mary tracks him down that Freddie learns just how much Prenter has been keeping from him; she’s the one who tells him that Queen had been offered a spot in the now-legendary Live Aid benefit concert weeks ago. Freddie breaks from Prenter (who immediately sells off as many sordid details of their lives together as he can). He begs forgiveness from his bandmates; they accept and Queen is together again, preparing for the biggest concert event in history. The band performs a monumental set at Live Aid, bringing Queen to the masses once again.

That’s the high note upon which “Bohemian Rhapsody” chooses to go out. That Live Aid performance is rightly remembered as one of the greatest on a day packed with greatness. It was a chance for Queen to shine once more – and to give Freddie Mercury a long overdue opportunity to bask in the adoration of his fans and do what he was born to do - perform.

Look, there’s a glossiness to this movie that is difficult to deny. There are definitely some sordid elements to this story that either wound up on the cutting room floor or never in the script to begin with. All of these relationships were far more complex than they’ve been rendered on-screen; there’s a significant degree of oversimplification. It’s all shiny veneer with no real glimpses into the seedier aspects of the story.

That being said, there’s plenty to like about the movie as well. That starts with Rami Malek, who gives a phenomenal performance as Freddie Mercury. The style, the grace, the otherworldly presence – Malek brings it all. He’s turned up to 11 throughout and it’s marvelous to watch. The spirit of Freddie Mercury is alive in him.

Lee, Hardy and to a lesser extent Mazzello all do great work embodying the other members of Queen, serving as a wonderfully grounded counterpoint to Malek’s head-in-the-clouds Mercury. Boynton offers a gentle strength in her portrayal of Mary, capturing the deep and abiding love she shared with Freddie. Myers is delightfully stunt-cast for his single scene. The rest of the ensemble is solid, though none of them are given a whole lot of depth with which to work.

Some of that likely springs from the behind-the-scenes complications; Bryan Singer is the credited director, though cinematographer Newton Siegel did some direction during extended Singer absences and Dexter Fletcher ultimately replaced Singer. One can easily see a “too many cooks” situation rearing up.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t the great movie it might have been. It’s too sanitized, too safe. But thanks to an incredible lead performance from Malek and – of course – the incredible music of Queen, it’s still a pretty good time.

[4 out of 5]


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