“Bohemian Rhapsody,” a biopic about the band Queen and the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury, premiered the weekend of Nov. 2 in Ellensburg. The film, directed at first by Bryan Singer and later on by Dexter Fletcher, was an engaging glimpse into Mercury’s (Rami Malek) complicated personal life, with a foot-thumping soundtrack and a stellar performance by Malek. The film definitely had its faults, among them a clichéd script and storyline as well as a less than revealing look at Mercury’s relationships with men.
The film was number one in box office earnings the weekend it premiered, making $500 million dollars in North America, according to CNN Business.
It received a 59 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 49 percent on Metacritic. Non-critic scores were higher, with a 94 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.4/10 score on IMDb.
The portrayal of the ups and downs in Mercury’s life throughout the film lent a deep feeling of triumph to Queen’s music. Mercury was easy to root for from the opening shots of him as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport in London, scribbling down songs while at the bus stop.
I continued to rally behind him when he sang in an alleyway as part of a makeshift audition for Queen in front of drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee).
I felt for him when he went on stage for the first time with Queen, wrenching the microphone back and forth amidst the audience’s snickers before ripping it off the stand and carrying it as he strutted around the stage. Mercury’s confidence and faith, yet also fragility and uncertainty, were brilliantly portrayed by Malek.
The film also provided an engaging portrayal of the relationship between Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and Mercury, who seemed to care very deeply about each other despite the inevitable events that tore them apart. They were almost best friends, which made the movie about friendship as much as anything else.
Mercury struggled later on in the movie with issues like drug use and an unhealthy relationship with band manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). These issues drew Mercury away from Queen, but Austin was instrumental in bringing him back to his friends and his home.
Mercury contracted AIDS at this point in the movie as well. Mercury’s struggle and triumph over all of these issues was satisfyingly integrated into the last scene, a performance at the Live Aid charity concert, illustrating how the movie was as much a celebration of Mercury’s tenacity and hope as Queen’s amazing music. Still, there were a few aspects of the movie that fell short.
The script felt a little cliché at times, as it was punctuated by a series of one-liners that robbed the story from the subtlety it could have had. Statements like “Fortune favors the bold” or the catchy
“Now we’re four misfits who don’t belong together, we’re playing for the other misfits… We belong to them,” were pleasing in a superficial way but could have been more understated.
Another problem was the treatment of Mercury’s sexuality. Mercury’s relationships with men are hinted towards at best throughout much of the movie, and the only meaningful relationship portrayed between Mercury and a man was with Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker). It would have been nice to see a deeper exploration of Mercury’s relationships with men.
A review of the movie from “The New York Times” stated that the “overall narrative architecture of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a Lego palace of clichés.” While watching, I recognized that the film followed a lot of the clichés in the biopic genre, perhaps striking a similar note at times to the “Love and Mercy” (2014) biopic about Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, directed by Bill Pohlad, which touched on a lot of similar themes.
What redeemed “Bohemian Rhapsody” for me was Malek’s nuanced performance and the exploration of his complicated relationships and struggle with AIDS. The portrayal of Mercury’s life gave the ending even more of a triumphant note, illustrating how music, in a way, saved Mercury’s life.
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