December 22, 2018 – The problem with most musicals, like “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman” and “A Star is Born” is that they usually only have one good song to their credit, and the rest is just mediocre, and forgettable. That certainly is not a problem with “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It is loaded with great memorable songs.
The story of Mercury (played brilliantly by Rami Malek of “Mr. Robot” fame) is pretty standard: Stardom, followed by a steady decline, hard living, alcoholism, drug use, ill health and death. This movie does a good job examining the chemistry of the band. It has great performance scenes, and it gives some insight into the process of creating the band's enormously popular music.
I am not a fan of Queen, so I did not know much about Freddy and the band before seeing this movie, so I did learn a lot from it that others may have known in advance. The movie opens around 1970 in London when young Farrokh Bulsara approaches the two remaining musicians of the band Smile (guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, played by Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy, respectively) right after the lead singer quit. He convinces them that he should be the band's new lead singer, and songwriter. Soon after, he changes his name to Freddy Mercury.
After the band finds a new bass player, John Deacon (played by Joseph Mazzello) the band begins to tour, but makes little money. Bulsara convinces the band, now called Queen, to sell the van and invest in a recording session to make an album. The band gets noticed right away and quickly gets a record deal, followed by a tour of the United States. Bulsara, an Indian-British Parsi from an oft-persecuted family of Zoroastrian émigrés from Zanzibar. Changing his name to Freddy Mercury, and his new rock and roll lifestyle puts him at odds with his traditionalist family.
Much of the film has to do with Freddy's personal life, his relationship to the band, his relationship to Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) his homosexual lovers and to his family. In the film, he proposes to Mary, but she later leaves him when she finds out he is gay. The two remain friends, however, and Freddy refers to her as his “one true love.” Various tumults arise when Freddy betrays his friends, or is betrayed by his friends.
A considerable section of the film is taken up with the making of Queen's 1975 “A Night at the Opera” album with its signature song “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The album is recorded at a secluded farm. There is also an extended scene in which the band tries to persuade a company executive to promote Bohemian Rhapsody on the radio. The company refuses, saying the song is too long at six minutes. Most songs are three minutes in the industry, but thanks to the band's promotion, Bohemian Rhapsody becomes a hit.
The movie ends with what seems like the entire 20-minute set of Queen's appearance at the 1985 “Live Aid” benefit concert. I had seen this set before on YouTube, and it sure looks like the set is captured faithfully in the film, but while the whole set was filmed, a couple of songs were removed from the final cut of the film. This concert performance was done with massive sets and a lot of digital magic, but it looks and sounds great.
Before seeing this film, I didn't realize just how many hit songs the band had, and what an impressive variety of music they created. This film emphasizes that Queen wasn't all Freddy Mercury. The other band members were important, too. While the film does have some historical inaccuracies, detailed by Rolling Stone and other sources, such as the band splitting up before the Live Aid concert (it did not) the film works from both a dramatic and musical standpoint.
This is a very effective biographical drama, as well as being a stunning musical performance film. Probably “A Star is Born” will collect more awards, but as far as the music and the musical performances, nothing I've seen this year comes close to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This film rates a B+.
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