The journey to getting the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” made, is just as intriguing as the real journey they faced to becoming the band Queen. While “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a visual treat with incredible camera work from director Bryan Singer, it’s also both fun and fast paced. But it’s not the “Killer Queen” biopic that it could be.
Back in 2010 “Borat” star Sacha Baron Cohen was attached to star as Freddie Mercury and “High Fidelity” director Stephen Frears was to direct. Frears had left the project due to creative differences with band mates Brian May and Roger Taylor, who have control of the band’s music and film rights. The deal with Baron Cohen fell apart after May objected to the project being a biopic of Freddie Mercury only, and not the rest of Queen. May felt it should focus on the other members and the aftermath of Mercury’s death. May and Taylor also didn’t like the original draft by writers Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson. Baron Cohen considers the script to have been a historically accurate and outrageous portrayal of Mercury that does not shy away from his rough edges, including his well-documented homosexual encounters and promiscuity.
With creative differences rising, Baron Cohen dropped out of the project. Many began to speculate that the film would never happen, but that all changed when “X-Men” and “Usual Suspects” director Bryan Singer signed on to direct, and “Mr. Robot’s” Rami Malek was casted as the legendary Freddie Mercury. The film’s production was rough and the problems didn’t end there. The producers and lead star, Rami Malek, had grown tired of director Bryan Singer’s erratic behavior, which saw him routinely showing up late to set or disappearing altogether. In 2017, after the Thanksgiving break, Singer disappeared from filming for three days straight, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel had to step in and take over as director during Singer’s absence. Singer has since claimed that he had left because of a family matter. Malek even complained to the studio about the director’s absences, in return Singer threw an object at Malek.
On December 5th, 20th Century Fox fired Singer from the film due to his erratic behavior on and off the set and his clashes with production personnel. Fox began canvassing for a new director to finish up production with two weeks of filming still remaining, post-production, and with potential reshoots all still undone. 20th Century Fox who has worked many times with Ridley Scott, had approached him as a possible replacement. With Scott declining the offer, the studio hired actor and director Dexter Fletcher (“Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, “Terminal”) to finish production. Fletcher directed 16 days of filming and oversaw the post-production, but the Director’s Guild of America, deemed that sole credit for directing the movie belonged to Bryan Singer.
Since I’m a bit late in writing this review (having only seen it today), there is nothing you haven’t already read and like most I’m with mixed feelings. “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t a peel back the layers, digging deep and shine a spotlight on everything ugly kind of tale. It’s very safe and straightforward. It doesn’t rank anywhere near the best of music biopics like “Ray”, “The Doors”, “Selena”, “Sid and Nancy” or “Lady Sings The Blues”.
Singer doesn’t shy away from some of the more challenging moments and relationships, particularly Mercury’s loving bond with Mary Austin (“The Apostles” Lucy Boynton), his sexual journey, his known and admitted reaches into debauchery and his contraction of AIDS. While the film addresses these things, it holds a lot of restraint with a PG-13 rating, when it should have gone in rated R territory. Singer’s film is more of a celebration of the music and the legacy that Queen built, although he does focus almost entirely on Mercury.
Portraying the band, is Joseph Mazzello (Tim from “Jurassic Park”, all grown up), as John Deacon (Ben Hardy, Angel from “X-Men: Apocalypse”) as Roger Taylor and Gwilym Lee as Brian May (looking like Howard Stern in “Private Parts”), are at most times side players and we only get the tiniest of peeks at their own personal lives, instead keeping the focus on Malek’s Mercury. But a few bits more on each of them would’ve been nice, I would have liked to know more about the other members.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” belongs to Rami Malek who is the whole show. Malek embodies Mercury completely, right down to the jutting front teeth, his on stage antics and vibrant personality. This is not a one note performance, Malek emmulates the pain, the challenges, the despair that perpetuated Mercury’s life. Malek gives Mercury a cinematic soul that rivals the rockstar one we’ve adored for decades. The entire film hinges on him nailing the performance of Mercury and he does just that. Even if you end up not loving the film, it would be hard not to love everything about Malek’s Mercury. It’s a signature performance and will be his most recognized.
The movie is all about the finale, a perfectly re-created replica of Queen’s extraordinary performance at the first Live-Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in 1985. The 11 minute sequence shows what Queen was capable of. Mixed with Singer’s incredible elegant camera work, stirred to greater heights by Queen’s music and a massive and enthusiastic crowd. It is sure to leave everyone on a Queen high and is a goosebump inducing show of rock and roll power. The Live Aid sequence thrillingly captures what was considered both a high point in rock performances and a historical moment in Queen’s career. The Live Aid concert stage is the largest set director Bryan Singer ever had constructed for a film of his. It’s a 100% trustworthy replica of the original stage and performance, even down to the Pepsi cups on the piano. When Malek has a microphone in his hand and is lip synching to Mercury’s vocals, Malek captures the essence of a rock god at the height of his powers.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is deemed an “authorized” biopic, with band members Brian May and Roger Taylor credited as Executive Music Producers. The film offers interesting glimpses into how hits like “We Will Rock You” and “Another One Bites the Dust” came to be, while leaving out moments that fans might want to see, from their triumphs like the “Flash Gordon,” recording or the origin of their best song “Under Pressure” with rock god David Bowie. For the 2 hour 15 min run time, the film moves very quickly. Most of the time too quickly, racing through the origins of many of Queen’s most recognizable tracks. With every subplot wrapped up quickly and in an unsatisfying way.
Screenwriter Anthony McCarten is no stranger to biopic’s as he previously wrote the Winston Churchill film “Darkest Hour” and the Steven Hawkins biopic “The Theory of Everything”. Although he could serve as a good omen for Rami Malek as both films have won Best Actor at the Oscars. McCarten still manages to stick to real facts including a scene of Mercury explaining his abandonment of his surname Bulsara after previously changing his first name from Farrokh, and becoming Freddie Mercury. Or even showcasing the cat person Freddie was as he would often call home from tour asking to talk to his cats, and make sure the TV was turned on for shows broadcasting his live performances so that the cats could watch. His cat Delilah was reportedly his favourite, even making it to become a song on the album “Innuendo”.
There is some great stuff in the film including a scene with Mike Myers as a fictional crusty record producer for EMI records. However as the casting of Mike Myers as the BMI executive is amusing, especially given the connection between the song and his film “Wayne’s World”. However the movie overplays its hand by having Myers say that kids in cars will never bang their heads to the song.
Freddie was a notoriously private man, as are the members of the band and because of that this film is not a deep dive into their lives. They continue to perform all over the world with American Idol contestant Adam Lambert as their new lead singer. You can tell that they didn’t want to share every mistake and secret. “Bohemian Rhapsody” may not be a great film, although it’s mostly a success and I have no idea how completely accurate it is. I do know that there are quite a few inaccuracies portrayed in the movie. Such as when Queen was walking on stage at Live Aid, the band U2 was walking off. In reality the band Dire Straits had actually played before Queen, not U2. Or the fact he didn’t tell the band and friends of his Aids diagnosis until a few years after Live Aid. The biggest stretch of truth comes in a large subplot, which is inaccurate from real life.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” holds itself as the highest grossing music biopic ever made. I say as good as “Bohemian Rhapsody” is, go see “A Star Is Born” first. Even though it’s of fictional characters, Bradley Cooper’s film has better characterization and feels realer than anything in “Bohemian Rhapsody”. In fact, Lady Gaga whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, had based her stage name on the Queen song “Radio Ga Ga”. Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is an entertaining picture, but when Singer tries to make it a genuine biopic of a groundbreaking band and its singular lead singer, it’s more like a “little silhouette-o of a man”. While the movie has it’s impressive moments, a great direction and a dedicated performance. Unlike the band’s music and Freddie Mercury whose voice and presence will never be forgotten, the movie itself is fairly forgettable.
GRADE: ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★★