Killer Queen: Rami Malek rocks Freddie Mercury biopic

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Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek, captures the rise of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, from his ambitious beginnings as a performer
to the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985. Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek, captures the rise of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, from his ambitious beginnings as a performer to the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985. Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox

It’s unfortunate that movies about exceptional people usually end up being so conventional. Queen was a band that defied expectations and broke down barriers, redefining what a rock band could be, and Freddie Mercury is not only one of history’s greatest frontmen but an icon for the alienated, particularly for LGBTQ fans. Bohemian Rhapsody, meanwhile, is exactly like every other musical biopic that’s anchored by a transcendent lead performance, but nearly sunk by unsturdy craftsmanship. The good parts are good: the music, the costuming, the revelation of Rami Malek as a leading man, and the depiction of loneliness. Almost everything else you could get from watching interviews and old performances on YouTube.

Maybe it’s a trap we create for ourselves. Mercury’s strong presence and enduring iconography is almost a film in itself, and leaves little room for exploration beyond filling in biographical gaps or recreating famous moments for recognition points. When so much about a person’s life is public, biopics often feel more like a recitation of facts than an artistic tribute.

If the only thing linking scenes is chronology, the effect is like watching different movies crammed together. The sequence of Queen touring America, with its graphics and music video production, is not the same film as the sequence of recording “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is not the same film as Mercury asserting his independence from a bad faith manager.

When the story focuses, it excels. We follow Mercury—born Farrokh Bulsara—from his days as an art school student desperate to perform, to seizing a chance opening with a fellow students’ band, to taking over the rock ‘n’ roll world. Once at the top, he faces loneliness and isolation, despite being beloved by millions of people. His love for his fiancée Mary (Lucy Boynton) is genuine, though their differing sexual orientations means the relationship can only satisfy so much. As the other members of Queen settle down with wives and children, Mercury becomes less connected with the group he knows as his family, and this gets exploited by personal manager and romantic partner Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). The film concludes with Live Aid in 1985, one of the most celebrated performances in music history, and one that cemented not only the band’s personal relationships, but its status as rock legends.

Mercury’s relationship with Prenter is the most compelling story thread of the film, and it provides the fuel for his personal redemption. The way Malek is able to convey the totality of Mercury’s experience with a simple shoulder or eye movement is phenomenal, and he elevates the movie while doing so. Mercury’s intelligence, humor, and charm are so fully captured, it’s enough reason to see this film—like seeing the otherwise forgettable Ray for the electric performance by Jamie Foxx.

The director credit goes to Bryan Singer, who was fired late in the production for absenteeism and rumored conflicts with the cast (not for that other thing, Google him). The disjointedness shows, as does the fact that certain individuals portrayed in the film have producer credits—hint: they’re all good guys who believe in Mercury the whole time. Overly prescient, not sufficiently focused, and frustratingly on the nose (casting Mike Myers to talk about kids headbanging in cars? Really?), see Bohemian Rhapsody for Malek alone.


Bohemian Rhapsody

PG-13, 135 minutes; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema


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