There’s been few musicians who have the enduring legacy of Freddie Mercury. More than 20 years have passed since he died, and the music he created with Queen is still everywhere in pop culture. While he was alive, Mercury was a flamboyant, boisterous character. With a personality and relevance like that, it was only a matter of time before a film came out chronicling his life. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that film, with a perfectly-cast lead playing Mercury.
The film is a Freddie Mercury biopic of Queen. Framed around the band’s epic Live Aid performance, “Bohemian Rhapsody” chronicles how Mercury originally meets his bandmates and the formation of Queen. It dives into his personal life as the band’s popularity rises through tribulations that led to a hiatus and their triumphant return at the legendary concert.
Rami Malek (TV’s “Mr. Robot”) has the unenviable task of trying to embody Mercury both onstage and off. Taking on the larger-than-life persona of the musician would be a tall order for any actor, but Malek knocks it out of the park. He is able to handle both the performance scenes and the emotional personal moments.
The problem that the film runs into is that the remaining members of Queen — Brian May and Roger Taylor — serve as producers on the film. It would have been impossible to make the film without the band’s blessing, because a Freddie Mercury biopic without Queen music would be inappropriate. But May and Taylor being actively involved in the film means that they also approved the script, which explains why in arguments the surviving members of the band are never shown negatively. It’s always Freddie’s drinking, or lateness, or flamboyancy that causes the kerfuffle.
During filming there was controversy when director Bryan Singer was fired from the film. Despite Dexter Fletcher finishing the movie in Singer’s place, the change of hands at the helm isn’t noticeable in the final product.
Along with Malek’s acting, which could see him in the mix come awards season, the performance scenes are highlights of the film. They offer jolts of high energy, leading to a re-creation of almost half of that Live Aid performance. (If you look closely, the jumbo screens on both sides of the stage show actual footage of Mercury during the performance in 1985.)
“Bohemian Rhapsody” tries to have it both ways, focusing on the interworkings of the band while acknowledging that no one would be buying a ticket without putting Mercury front and center. Ultimately, the film doesn’t go deep enough in either aspect. If you go in knowing that, there’s plenty here to enjoy; from the performance scenes to Malek’s portrayal of Mercury, you’ll be rocked before the end credits start to roll.