You don’t need me to tell you who Queen is. The legendary band and its larger-than-life lead singer, Freddie Mercury, will be familiar to anyone—whether you’ve grown up with their music or discovered them long after Freddie passed away. You will know at least one Queen song, but perhaps you might not know much about the legends behind this great British rock band. And that’s where this long overdue biographical film, Bohemian Rhapsody, comes in.
I won’t try and pretend that I know how accurate the timeline of the film and actual events are. But then again, this is a biopic and not a documentary. And it’s one that had everything from a new director (Dexter Fletcher replacing the credited director Bryan Singer) to three lead actor changes before landing Rami Malek to play Freddie (and what a great choice that was, but more on that later). It’s been a bumpy ride production-wise as it was for the band.
There is a sense of déjà vu when it comes to Bohemian Rhapsody. The production felt like it followed a tried-and-true formula for music-related biopics. The film is anchored around the band’s famous performance at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985 and the events that led to that iconic moment. Somewhere in the film as Queen was preparing to create their debut album, Freddie talks about needing to “get experimental.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to how his story is portrayed. The film goes from the band’s rise to fame, temporary fall, and then to the eventual rise again. But if you need to follow a sort of linear approach to the story, it would suffice. Like one review of “Bohemian Rhapsody” the song in the film, this treatment felt “perfectly adequate.”
We get a very quick glimpse of Freddie’s life before he became Freddie Mercury. We’re introduced to him by his birth name Farrokh Bulsara and his Indian Parsi family, who hailed from Zanzibar. We see glimpses of his father’s disapproval of his life choices and how much of an outsider he was growing up in London. The film doesn’t dwell too much on this. Instead, it focuses on Freddie’s, or rather Farrokh’s, meeting with the college rock band called Smile and how they went from that group to being reinvented as Queen.
It was great fun seeing bits and pieces of how some of the band’s most recognizable songs get made, even in this dramatized approach. But there was this forced emphasis or reminder on how the band’s members contributed in making many of Queen’s hits. Everyone gets a chance to talk about their idea for a song and then this pans into them playing or recording said song. But we don’t really see how or why they developed a distinct sound. I would’ve forgiven a shortened version of the band’s Live Aid performance if they delved deeper into how Queen developed its unique musical style.
We don’t get to see much of the personalities of the other members, either. As far as the film portrays them, Roger Taylor (played by Ben Hardy) was the womanizing drummer; Brian May (Gwilym Lee) was the guitarist and peacemaker; and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) was the bassist. I wish I could say more about Mazzello’s Deacon, but there was hardly anything for me to sink my teeth into. Perhaps this has something to do with May and Taylor being involved in the production without Deacon.
But again, the film puts all the focus on its star and Malek doesn’t disappoint. He embodies Mercury’s larger-than-life public persona and sad, lonely soul in private. He commands the attention in any room he’s in and is a compelling actor to watch. You accept the hype surrounding the preening, over-the-top personality on stage as well as the torment and loneliness that comes with feeling like an outsider in his personal life. We get to see parts of Freddie’s life and how even with the band he called his family, he was tormented by his demons and coming to grips with his own sexuality. A lot of the film focused on his relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and some would not like that fact that it didn’t delve deeper into Freddie’s bisexuality. But even with this somewhat sanitized version of Queen’s and Freddie’s story, at the very least it acknowledges some of the debauchery Freddie engaged in. There were times though it felt like his band members were patronizing him and his lifestyle. And that didn’t sit well with me.
The film shines the most when the band comes together to perform. Those are definite highlights and I won’t be surprised if you have to stop yourself from singing along as they play.
Is the film worth watching?
For someone who isn’t as familiar with Queen as they’d like to be, it’s a somewhat good introduction to find out more. If you’re a longtime fan, you might come to enjoy the music or perhaps boil over the inaccuracies or the portrayal and treatment. See it if you’re just hoping to lose yourself in the music or just want to get entranced by Malek’s performance.
7 out of 10
Bohemian Rhapsody is now showing in Philippine cinemas nationwide.