Bohemian Rhapsody is a wildly entertaining, emotionally impactful tribute to the greatest artist of all-time. It’s not an understatement or a disservice to say that the film feels like a concert; from moment one the film thrusts the audience into the story of Farrokh Bulsara, a university student with big dreams, and the film thrusts us into incredible story of Bulsara’s transition into the rock legend Freddie Mercury. The film perfectly captures the magic of Mercury: his extravagance, flamboyancy, passion, wit, and compassion, all of which are anchored by an all-time great performance by Rami Malek.
The film begins with Mercury’s early days as a university student, chronicling his chance encounter with Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) that resulted in the formation of Queen. The film perfectly balances all of Freddie’s most important relationships; his complicated love affair with Mary Austin (Lucy Boyton), his struggles with family and living up to his heritage, his discovery of his own sexuality across the course of his career, and the hectic yet familial relationship with the members of Queen.
Malek is remarkable here, and although his all-timer performance on Mr. Robot is evidence enough of his talent, here he captures all the dualities of Freddie Mercury. He’s a shy, sensitive soul who developed a flamboyant on-stage performance, he’s an egotistical person who cares very deeply about others, and he’s a gay man who developed a deeply emotional connection with Mary Austin. Malek nails the stage presence of Mercury and is electrifying to watch, but the process of watching the elements of Mercury’s life that inspired his work take form is just as thrilling. Malek is just as good at evoking Freddie’s personal struggles; key scenes where he makes confessions to Mary Austin, his bandmates, and his family (arguably the three most important parts of Mercury’s life) are sure to shed tears from audiences.
Malek is also surrounded by a great ensemble of supporting players; Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, and Gwilym Lee all develop unique personalities that make up Queen, and the chaotic, yet familial relationship they develop onscreen is often humorous, but all very touching. The film does a terrific at job at defining why Queen rose to prominence, and how the experimental, odd, and inclusive nature of the band was so appealing. Lucy Boyton is terrific as Mary Austin, and her scenes with Freddie throughout their relationship and beyond give the film all the right emotional moments.
The film goes quickly, and it might have felt to quick if the performances weren’t so magnetic. We instantly get a sense of the impact that Queen has, and the film moves at such a lightning fast pace that doesn’t dwell too much on one particular aspect, and is able to cover an incredible amount in just over two hours. Sure, it’s slow in dealing with some of Freddie’s personal struggles, but the added time connects us to him on a personal level and not as a performer, and while indulgent at times, this is the Freddie Mercury movie- that’s kind of the point.
The last twenty minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody that depicts the iconic Live Aid performance is one of those rare, purely magical movie moments that I’ll never forget seeing for the first time. Watching Rami Malek passionately convey the swan song of Freddie Mercury as he rattles off the iconic set that included “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Radio GaGa,” “We Are The Champions,” “Hammer to Fall,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and “We Will Rock You” to the reaction of the film’s ensemble is an immensely satisfying moment of pure cinema joy. This is a big, loud, funny, rousing communal movie experience- I’m pretty sure Freddie Mercury would’ve loved it. Grade: A+