Theatergoers are still reveling in the most recent remake of A Star is Born, but another star was born in 1946. This star was not a work of fiction with source material dating back to the 1930’s, but a living breathing rock god who redefined music along with his bandmates. That star went by the name Freddie Mercury and his film is called Bohemian Rhapsody.
You would be hard pressed to find a living soul that doesn’t know the legendary song the film takes its title from. You would also be hard pressed to find many people that really know much about Freddie Mercury, other than the fact that he was the lead singer of Queen, he was gay, and he died of AIDS. If that’s all you know about him, then you don’t know him at all. On paper it sounds simple. On film, it’s so intricate, complicated, heartbreaking, and inspiring.
I got to experience “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Dolby Atmos, an incredible experience. The sound mixing reaches into your heart and makes you feel the music, like being at a live Queen concert. I recently saw them perform with Adam Lambert and the film perfectly captures the energy and aural splendor of seeing them live. Of course, the one quality you won’t find at a live concert today is Freddy Mercury’s captivating persona, which is expertly replicated on screen.
Rami Malek has the difficult job of resurrecting an icon, a task he pours everything into. Whether he’s doing an impersonation or just tapping into Mercury’s essence is hard to dissect. What is obvious is that you believe him with this transformative performance. During the film, you will lose track of Malek and believe you’re seeing the real Mercury.
While Mercury is the center of attention, and always was, the film spends the majority of the runtime establishing his band mates as a family of outcasts. His one true love and inspiration behind the classic song “Love of My Life” becomes an emotional anchor in the film. Freddie’s relationship with Mary Austin is a complicated romance, soul mates destined to be torn apart by their different sexualities.
Similar to the way Tom Hanks isn’t seen smoking on screen as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, Mercury’s interest in drugs is shown through small hints and his interest in men is kept above the belt line. It maintains a PG-13 rating, depicting only one of the singer’s legendary debaucherous parties and keeping everyone’s clothes on.
Beyond the brilliance of Rami Malek’s performance, the film is surprisingly funny at times, with an unrecognizable Mike Myers playing a cantankerous record executive. The cinematography is brilliant as well, with some impressive camera moves. In one concert sequence, the camera swoops underneath the piano and turns around in a backwards pan to depict the performers and audience. Another shot while the band is on tour features a bus heading towards the screen, passing through the glass into the bus. Moments like these are a visual delight for the audience.
What Bohemian Rhapsody does exceptionally well is take you along on Queen’s meteoric rise to fame, the challenges the band members had working together, and the way they clung to each other in the end. For the impassioned Queen fan, it’s a 2-hour fan fest the will reconnect you with the music. For casual listeners, it will add context to some classic songs and encourage you to dive deeper into Queen’s catalogue (owned by Disney’s Hollywood Records in North America). But the film’s narrative often feels a little sloppy, packing so much in that it loses focus on the main theme, which is simply that to live, you must have love. For that reason, “Somebody to Love” becomes the real ballad of the film, bookending to story on either end.
I give Bohemian Rhapsody 3.5 out of 5 Galeleo’s.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.