The Bock’s Office: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ a regal rock biopic of one of music’s brightest stars
If even after dozens of sessions listening to six minutes of confusing, esoteric lyrics, you still don’t fully comprehend how keywords like Scaramouche and bismillah are interconnected, the film of the same name as one of rock’s most endearing tunes won’t give you much more insight.
What “Bohemian Rhapsody” will do, however, is recount how one of the genre’s most transcendent voices came to be a legend.
In 1970 London, twenty-something émigré Farroukh Bulsara (Rami Malek) is bursting with musical talent and no outlet to show it as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport, though despite the misgivings of his conservative Zoroastrian family he’s on the hunt for a place to showcase his singing.
A vocalist opening in a small-time band called Smile gives him exactly what he needs to display his style, forming a quick bond with guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), as well as newly recruited bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello).
The quartet becomes a hit thanks largely to their new singer’s explosive energy on stage, in addition to a couple name changes as the band slowly but surely accepts their frontman’s demands that they go by the moniker Queen while he morphs into the identity of one-of-a-kind Freddie Mercury.
As the group starts to take over the charts and gain fame in Britain and across the world, Freddie’s artistry keeps Queen rocketing toward bigger and better things but at the same time, his diva-like sensibilities continually create conflicts as he tends to eclipse everyone else.
Outside the band, his relationship with longtime girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) faces its own perils between constant touring and studio time as well as Freddie’s reluctance to admit truths about his sexuality that he has avoided for most of his life.
You don’t need a thermometer handy to know that Malek is every bit the 200 degrees Mercury sang of in the guise of Mr. Fahrenheit (while traveling at the speed of light). The “Mr. Robot” star shines in every facet as he dons prosthetics to recreate the rock star’s overly toothy grin — well-known for having four extra incisors — and treats the microphone as if it were a waltz partner, albeit not doing most of his own singing.
It’s when you look beyond the surface that you see the stronger performance as someone whose flamboyance immediately signals to everyone around him that he’ll be a gay icon for years to come even if he remains in denial for the sake of not hurting the love of his life.
While American Malek single-handedly steals the show, true Brits Lee and Hardy anchor him well as his original bandmates, who quickly realize who’s always going to be the center of attention. Maybe that’s why Mazzello, also American, tends to serve as the whipping boy of Queen, but Deacon’s bass riff for “Another One Bites the Dust” at the very least warrants respect.
As for the suits, it’s a peculiar progression through managers as Aiden Gillen plays John Reid, the man who helps catapult the group into the stratosphere only to be regularly disregarded in favor of lawyer Jim “Miami” Beach (Tom Hollander).
You’ll have to really focus to recognize Mike Myers in yet another chameleon role as EMI executive Ray Foster, who insists that a song called “Bohemian Rhapsody” will never be welcome on the radio leading to the first of many schisms between Queen and their record labels.
It’s not so much his lack of foresight about a tune so ahead of its time as it is his ultimatum that “I’m in Love with My Car” should be the lead single. Typical producer…
The long and difficult road to get a Freddie Mercury movie in theaters has involved Sacha Baron Cohen being attached originally, while much of the recent buzz has been around director Bryan Singer’s behind-the-scenes drama, and though he receives on-screen credit, it was Dexter Fletcher who brought the project to completion.
Anthony McCarten’s screenplay reworks the Queen chronology agreeably enough even if fans know full well the timeframe is off — “We Will Rock You” first came to fruition well before 1980, no matter what the film suggests — but the buildup to the band’s landmark performance at the 1985 charity concert Live Aid has exactly the rhythm and crescendos that would befit any of their greatest hits.
Most telling is the amount of time spent focusing on Freddie’s personal journey without languishing on his legacy as one of the first high-profile people to die of AIDS, which while a noteworthy detail of his history is hardly how he or anyone would want to be remembered.
The tongue-in-cheek tone of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is best summed up when it shows a flurry of negative reviews for its namesake song if for no other reason than to prove the doubters wrong and show just how little mainstream acceptance means. As a wise man once sang, “I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I’ve come through.”