Throughout the 10-year effort to bring to movie screens the saga of the wonderfully strange, outrageously gifted rock band Queen, whether or not the film would be worth watching always hinged on one make-or-break factor. Who could possibly play rock god Freddie Mercury, one of the most charismatic, seductive, outrageous and golden-voiced front men in rock history?
The movie, written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) from a story by Peter Morgan (The Crown) begins dully with the flamboyant Zanzibar-born Freddie (born Farrokh Bulsara) working as an airport baggage guy after immigrating to London with his Indian Parsi parents (Ace Bhatti and Meneka Das), with whom he clashes. In nothing flat, he auditions on the street for a struggling rock band called Smile, becomes its lead singer, dubs himself Freddie Mercury and rebrands the band as Queen.
Rami Malek has so nailed Mercury's grandiosity, prowling sexuality and vulnerability that he supercharges the movie, even through its roughest patches—of which there are many.
What we do get a fix on is that the artistically ambitious Mercury constantly wanted to break musical barriers, was supported and undercut by managers (Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander and Allen Leech, each as excellent as expected), collected cats, gathered around him a pack of parasites and users and that as much as he cared for his girlfriend-soul sister Mary Austin (an excellent Lucy Boynton), he became consumed by haunting gay leather bars, gulping pills, snorting coke, cruising butch men, drugging and throwing extravagantly debauched parties. “I am exactly the person I was always meant to be; I’m not afraid of anything,” he tells Mary, and he finally leans into his sexuality.
As lovingly as the movie traces the friendship between Mercury and Mary, it skimps on the details of his long, rich relationship with his gay partner Jim Hutton, played very nicely by Aaron McCusker, despite how much screen time he must spend staring lovingly at Mercury from the sidelines. Even with the exclamation marks of Malek’s performance, Bohemian Rhapsody plays without real flash, panache or depth. Considering its tumultuous production history—actors Malek, Holland and other personnel complained about director Bryan Singer’s absences and lack of professionalism, and Fox brought in Dexter Fletcher to replace him—the film is surprisingly smooth. Too smooth. The way Freddie Mercury lived his life, he deserved a movie guaranteed to blow our minds. Think, say, director Ken Russell at his balls-out, gaga peak. PG-13 just won’t cut it.
- Rami Malek is perfectly cast, and those songs are magical
- The by-the-numbers biopic doesn't bite the dust, but it won't exactly rock you, either