While I do not know much about Queen, a famous British rock band active during the 1970-80s, I can confidently tell you as your average amateur movie critic that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a rather forgettable experience on the whole. Sure, it does provide several excellent musical performances to rock you as required but, sadly, it fails to distinguish itself from many other musician biography films out there. Although it is not a total failure, there are glaring problems including weak narrative, and that is a shame considering some genuinely engaging elements shown in the film.
Covering the period between 1970 and 1985, the movie depicts how Queen was founded and then rose to fame mainly via the viewpoint of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), the mercurial and flamboyant lead singer of Queen. After the opening scene showing Mercury and the other members of Queen preparing for the 1985 Live Aid performance held in Wembley Stadium, the movie instantly moves backward to 1970 for showing their early years, when Mercury was Farrokh Bulsara, the son of a Pakistani immigrant couple living in London. While looking for any possible break for him, Mercury happens to spot a rock band whose lead singer has just left for joining some other band, and that is how he comes to perform with Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello). Although things do not look that promising for them in the beginning, their band, which is renamed as, of course, Queen, eventually get a breakthrough thanks to the success of their first official album, and they subsequently sign a contract with EMI.
In the meantime, Mercury comes to befriend a young woman named Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). As they spend more time with each other, Mercury considers moving their relationship to the next step, and Austin is certainly delighted when he proposes to her, but, of course, their relationship becomes rather distant as he is frequently busy with performing or recording music along with his colleagues.
And there is something Mercury does not reveal to Austin yet. As shown from one brief scene, he often finds himself attracted to men, and the situation becomes more complicated when his personal manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) approaches to him a little closer. During a rather contrived private scene, Mercury eventually confesses about his sexuality to Austin, and Austin naturally feels hurt, but she decides to remain as a close friend to him because, well, he still loves her despite being a gay.
As his band advances further with more fame and popularity, Mercury comes to brandish his ego more than before, and we are accordingly served with several wild moments including the one where he gleefully hurls himself into hedonistic fun along with others. As he is indulged and manipulated more and more by Prenter, he becomes distant to his colleagues, and they are not so pleased when they are suddenly informed that he is going to make his first solo album.
It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Mercury eventually comes to realize his error and then has a moment of reconciliation with his colleagues, but the screenplay by Anthony McCarten, which is based on the story written by him and Peter Morgan, does not provide enough emotional ground for that as often suffering from its scattershot storytelling and superficial characterization. While I do not mind a number of fictional elements in the story, it is not particularly engaging or insightful as seriously lacking spirit and personality, and the overall result merely feels like another run-of-the-mill musician biography drama.
Anyway, despite its troubled production and post-production process, the movie manages to be competent on the surface, and the music performance scenes in the film are effectively presented with enough authenticity and excitement. While I was entertained to recognize a few familiar songs including “We Will Rock You”, I was amused by a comical scene involved with “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and I was also impressed by the considerable efforts put into the vivid recreation of the 1985 Live Aid performance.
As the center of the movie, Rami Malek, who has recently been more prominent thanks to his acclaimed performance in TV series “Mr. Robot”, is not only convincing but also quite electrifying at times. Although he does not sing for himself in the movie, Malek ably embodies his character with gusto and conviction, and his committed performance certainly deserves a better film in my trivial opinion.
In case of several notable supporting performers surrounding Malek, most of them are under-utilized mainly due to their underdeveloped characters. While Lucy Boynton, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, and Aidan Gillen are stuck in their respective thankless roles, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzello manage to leave some impression during their music performance scenes with Malek, and Mike Myers makes a brief amusing appearance as a stubborn EMI executive who is not very enthusiastic about “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Overall, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not as successful as other recent notable musician biography drama films such as “Ray” (2004), “Walk the Line” (2005) and “La Vie en Rose” (2007), which have far more spirit and personality in comparison. I would rather recommend them instead of this passable product, but you will probably enjoy it more than me if you just want to enjoy music.