FILM REVIEW – BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. With Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Aaron McCusker, Mike Myers. Written by Anthony McCarten. Directed by Bryan Singer. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language. 134 minutes.
Biopics – which is to say, dramatic movies that purport to be based on the life of a real person – are a genre unto themselves. No matter who the person is or what the subject matter, one expects to see scenes before they were famous and how they were discovered or emerged, scenes where they enjoy their greatest successes, scenes where their personal lives threaten to derail them, and the moment of triumph that cements their place in history.
In that sense, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, which is the story of the rock group Queen and their lead singer Freddie Mercury, has surprising similarities to the recent “First Man,” which is about Neil Armstrong’s journey to the moon. Both films hit similar beats in charting the rise and fall and rise of their protagonists even though – obviously – their stories are completely different.
Mercury, played by Emmy winner Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”) in a star-making turn, was a baggage handler at the Heathrow Airport when local band Smile lost their lead singer. His joining the reconstituted group would set them on the road to success as one of the major rock acts of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The film leads up to their reunion – after Mercury went solo and discovered he had contracted AIDS – at the Live Aid concert in 1985.
As a story, the film offers some interesting insights into the rock music industry. They walk out on their record producer (played by an unrecognizable Mike Myers) when he dismisses the esoteric recording that gives the film its name. They bicker among themselves over which songs should be recorded. And they have to deal with various “outsiders” who influence the lives of the group, from managers to romantic partners.
For Mercury it was especially complicated, as Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) was the love of his life whom he clearly intended to marry, but there was another side of him he could not ignore. When he confesses his bisexuality to her it dooms their relationship and yet they remained close friends even as they became involved with other partners. The film depicts both a negative and a positive relationship for Mercury, with Aaron McCusker portraying Jim Hutton, the man with whom he spent his final years.
If the movie reflects its troubled history with several actors, writers, and directors coming and going – including director Bryan Singer who was fired before the film’s completion – it scores on the basis of its performances, particular Malek as Mercury. He burns up the screen as Mercury whether dealing with intimate personal issues, ego-driven conflicts behind the scenes, or on stage in performance. This is a star-making turn and ought to put him on the short list for the Best Actor Oscar along with Ryan Gosling for “First Man” and Chadwick Boseman for “Black Panther.”
For rock fans, for Oscar handicappers, and for anyone who enjoys an outstanding performance, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is one of the must-sees of the season.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.