Bohemian Rhapsody is a great biopic about the history of Queen from Freddie Mercury’s first encounter with the band (then known as Smile) to the Live Aid concert in 1985, largely focused on Freddie Mercury.
It had the flaws that most biopics share — it’s not tightly plotted — but it strived to be an honest (though not necessarily always factual) portrait of Freddie Mercury. It didn’t downplay his bisexuality or partying, or how much of a jerk he could be with his fellow band members and other people he loved, but instead tried to get us to understand Mercury through the lens of his relationships.
His primary relationships were with a long time lover Mary Austin, whom he always called “the love of my life,” his fellow band members, his parents, and Paul Prenter and Jim Hutton, with whom he was involved at different times. So you see his flaws, and you see why the people around him loved him, but you don’t see the media stereotype of Freddie Mercury — which is what I think some people wanted to see.
Small parts of the film were cinematic kitsch, like a tour sequence in which the names of cities are formed in bright letters out of Mercury’s different performance postures, and a montage of different very negative reviewer comments about “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The former wasn’t necessary: I think a montage of concert performances would have been enough. The music always carries the day in the film. But the appearance of kitsch should be forgivable in a film about Queen, who could always elevate it to art while indulging in it. The latter, however, was still enjoyable, as “Bohemian Rhapsody” is arguably one of the three to five most important songs of the 70s and their signature song, so these negative reviews deserve the short attention they get.
I probably took more pleasure in seeing arguments with record producers about singles and arguments the band had with each other during recording than I should, but I think the band members who produced the film — Brian May and Roger Taylor had producer credit, and Jim Beach, the band manager, has writing credit — wanted to depict those tensions as part of the band’s creative energy. I think it worked.
Rami Malek was impressive. I’d only seen him before in the series Mr. Robot, and if you’ve seen that series, you couldn’t imagine two more completely different characters. One is a deeply introverted computer geek who suffers from multiple personality disorder, and the other is Freddie Mercury. I now see Malek as up there with Heath Ledger and Johnny Depp in range of characters. Performances overall were very good, and it’s worth seeing for no other reason than the fun and energy of the music, which is I think the film’s real star. The film is as in love with Queen’s music as anyone could hope.
Incidentally, the film is also a great tribute to Live Aid, the 1985 concert for Africa relief. It begins and ends with the Live Aid concert. Retrospectively, and because of this film, I think the Live Aid concert was the last great swan song for major acts from the 60s and 70s from Dylan to punk. The 70s ended in 1985 at that concert. In terms of the band’s history, ending the film with Live Aid omits the last six years of the band’s life with Freddie Mercury, which covered the last three albums released during Mercury’s lifetime and what would have been a heartrending presentation of Mercury succumbing to AIDS-related pneumonia. So the film is an incomplete portrait in terms of the band’s history, but I think a good portrait of a group of personalities creating music together and a great celebration of the music itself and the larger than life personality who made it come alive for so many of us.