Freddie Mercury and his Queen bandmates get the biopic treatment in Bohemian Rhapsody, an occasionally inspiring but generally middling overview of the arena rock group and its larger-than-life lead singer.
Creative differences between the real-life band’s surviving members and Sacha Baron Cohen, who was originally slated to play Mercury, have loomed over the production since 2010, and it’s no big surprise that the band ultimately favored a more play-it-safe approach with the material. With a rousing soundtrack and a litany of on-the-road montages, die-hard Queen fans will have plenty to enjoy in this film, but those looking for a deeper dive will likely be disappointed.
We’re introduced to Mercury (Rami Malek) as he meets guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) the night that they serendipitously find themselves in need of a new lead singer. With the addition of bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), the group re-forms under the name Queen and begins selling out shows around the world after the success of their debut album. The film skims through the highs and lows of the band’s career but tends to focus on the struggles of its elusive lead singer, including his atypical relationship with girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and his hard-partying lifestyle that would eventually drive a wedge between himself and the group.
The cast, aside from the distracting presence of Mike Myers, is well-realized and each performer does solid work in their respective roles. But it’s Malek who shines brightest in the spotlight. He gives an appropriately commanding performance that’s worthy of Mercury’s towering persona. By the time we get to the iconic Live Aid performance, Malek is practically indistinguishable from the real Freddie as he struts around the stage.
The biggest issues with Bohemian Rhapsody tend to come from behind the camera and generally center around the thoroughly unimaginative storytelling from director Bryan Singer, who was fired about one month before filming ended. From the introduction of Freddie’s disapproving parents to the pleas from Mary Austin that Freddie is “burning the candle at both ends,” Singer leaves no rock-biopic cliché unturned.
It’s unfortunate that the life of a musical firebrand like Freddie Mercury has been sanitized to this degree. Still, even though the script is full of moments that range from unlikely to downright false, screenwriter Anthony McCarten does land some quality zingers as Mercury and crew snipe with higher-ups in the record industry. Bohemian Rhapsody is at its best when it focuses on the hard work of four musicians who crafted 15 studio albums in their relatively limited time together. But as an examination of a rock icon, it’s regrettably tame and toothless.
Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Grinch, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rashida Jones, is an update on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book about a grumpy creature who’s out to ruin Christmas for the people of Whoville.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, starring Claire Foy and LaKeith Stanfield, follows hacker Lisbeth Salander as she squares off against a foe who has ties to her past.
Overlord, with Jovan Adepo and Wyatt Russell, is a World War II horror film that pits U.S. paratroopers against violent creatures bred from a Nazi experiment.