Much like the making of this film and Freddie Mercury himself, the reactions and impressions of Bohemian Rhapsody are complicated.
The highly anticipated biopic has been years in the making and went through some major ups-and-downs in order to become a reality. (The Wrap summarizes all of the drama rather succinctly, from multiple director changes, to Sacha Baron Cohen originally being tapped to portray Mercury, to credited director Bryan Singer’s firing weeks before the end of production.) Taking all of this into consideration, the fact this film even happened is a miracle, and there’s perhaps nothing more miraculous about Bohemian Rhapsody than the performance of Rami Malek as Mercury.
Malek truly embodies Mercury in a way that makes you forget at times that you’re not watching the actual Mercury. The greatest example of this comes at the film’s end with a near shot-for-shot recreation of Queen’s iconic performance at Live Aid. The Oscar buzz around Malek is more than warranted as should be a Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination. It bears mentioning that Gwilym Lee as Brian May was subtly brilliant from his facial expressions to his mannerisms and the cadence with which he spoke. Of course, that immaculate curly wig also helped.
Now, Oscar buzz around the film as a whole? This is where we enter complicated territory.
Bohemian Rhapsody chronicles Mercury and Queen from 1970 through Live Aid and clocks in at two hours and 14 minutes, with the last 20 minutes being the recreated Live Aid performance. In less than two hours time, it’s nearly impossible to deeply cover ALL of the major components of a subject as massive as Mercury and Queen. For those looking for a detailed look at Mercury and Queen, this is likely where the film disappoints. One lone film couldn’t possibly handle such a scope; only a mini-series could potentially handle such a task.
The same can be said for those looking for a deeply revelatory look at the life of Mercury and the history of Queen. If you’re coming to Bohemian Rhapsody digging for dirt, your search will come up empty, but this can’t be too surprising considering May and Roger Taylor were both at the helm as producers and were heavily involved in the film. Factoring in that off stage Mercury was a very private person even to his own bandmates at times, it shouldn’t be shocking that Bohemian Rhapsody handles Mercury’s legend and legacy with care and still leaves an air of mystery.
As for the earlier criticisms of the film not fully addressing Mercury’s sexuality and HIV/AIDS diagnosis after the release of the first trailer, Bohemian Rhapsody explores Mercury’s relationships with Mary Austin, manager Paul Prenter and with partner Jim Hutton. The scene when Mercury meets Hutton is particularly poignant, while the scenes where Mercury receives his diagnosis and reveals he has HIV/AIDS to his Queen bandmates were devastating but handled with remarkable grace. Was this enough? As someone who is straight, that’s not for me to say, but by no means were these topics completely ignored.
So, what can moviegoers expect when seeing Bohemian Rhapsody? An entertaining, visually stunning film that may lack the depth and insight some desire, but it’s still anchored by an outstanding performance by Malek that everyone, Queen fan or not, should see.
Oh, and the soundtrack is pretty great, too.
Erica Banas is a rock/classic rock blogger that loves the smell of old vinyl in the morning.