If hearing “We Will Rock You” or “Another One Bites the Dust” gets your juices flowing, this movie will likely do the same, in spite of its shortcomings. I never knew much about Freddie Mercury, but Rami Malek’s stunning performance won me over to Bohemian Rhapsody. The music of Queen is enduringly popular for a good reason, and the soundtrack is expertly produced by his longtime bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor.
Mercury was a misfit who defied his old-world family and adopted a flamboyant look and lifestyle, even abandoning his surname Bulsara after previously changing his first name from Farrokh. (He didn’t yet realize, or acknowledge, that he was gay.) After helping to form Queen in 1970, he enjoyed enormous success but ignited conflicts in his personal and professional life. This portion of the film resorts to cliche, sorry to say. I’m sure it was difficult for screenwriter Anthony McCarten to avoid these pitfalls. They are endemic to any story with a leading character who lets success go to his head, screws up his love life, and allows his hedonistic pursuits to foul every facet of his existence.
Fortunately, Malek’s performance is so visceral and rises above this shopworn storytelling. Ben Hardy, Gwylim Lee, and Joseph Mazzello give solid performances as the other members of Queen. Mike Myers makes an amusing cameo, under a ton of makeup, as the record executive who refuses to support the release of the extra-long single “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
What really sells the movie is the finale, a recreation—no, a replica— of Queen’s extraordinary performance at the first Live-Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in 1985. It not only ties up loose threads in the narrative but shows what Queen was capable of, stirred to greater heights than ever by a massive and enthusiastic crowd. Freddie was a notoriously private man, as are the surviving members of the band, so this film is not a deep dive or hard-hitting documentary. They continue to perform all over the world and may not have wanted to share every mistake and secret. If the film wavers at times, its sheer energy and shining star performance compensate. Bohemian Rhapsody may not be a great film (and I have no idea how accurate it is) but it’s definitely entertaining. This is a celebration of the music Queen created and the man whose voice and presence will never be forgotten.