Review: Bohemian Rhapsody – Saved by Malek’s performance & Live Aid reenactment

bohemian rhapsody 2018 movie still live aid

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Movie review

Directed mostly by Bryan Singer (X-Men films, The Usual Suspects), screenwritten by Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour, The Theory of Everything), and finished up by Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle, Sunshine on Leith) after Singer was fired during the final third of production, Bohemian Rhapsody is the biographical drama about the late Freddie Mercury (portrayed by Rami Malek) and the rock band, Queen. The films tells a historically inaccurate story of Mercury’s life and the band’s journey to stardom and legendary status, up to their performance at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985.

The film is not as experimental as the band is casually portrayed to be. It has quite an imbalance narratives and pacing where the first half is rushed through almost like a documentary and then suddenly slows down and gets more serious and in-depth in the second half, focusing on Mercury’s struggles with his sexuality, lifestyle and loneliness. It has one of the weakest first act for a biopic and one of the strongest final act I’ve ever seen. The film simply tried to do too much, cramming 15 years of Queen’s journey to success along with Mercury’s personal life into a 2-hour movie. Even the other Queen members Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) felt like stock side characters. Apart from screen time constraints, it’s probably also due to May and Taylor’s involvement in the film’s development and creative process which may have prevented the film from being too open and honest about what really happened behind closed doors.

Another issue I had with the film is the same issue I had with the 2014 Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything, which was also written by McCarten. It effectively depicts the relationship between the protagonist and the girl, which in this case it’s Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), but fails to really convey the how, where or why of his genius, talent and inspirations. In the film, it seems as though Queen simply just came up with the music out of thin air by simply wanting to do so. According to the film, Mercury came up with part of the the titular song “Bohemian Rhapsody” simply by just looking around outside of a barn. And then the film also fails to convincingly develop the romance relationship between Mercury and his last love interest, Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker).

Lucy Boynton rami malek bohemian rhapsody still

Although I didn’t really feel like I know enough about the rest of the Queen members from the film, I was certainly engaged and touched by the great performance of Rami Malek (Mr. Robot TV series) as Mercury. It’s so good that I no longer wonder what if the original cast Sacha Boren Cohen stayed on the project and took on the role instead. Malek manages to effectively portray the wild, flamboyant and bold spirit of Mercury, and also an emotional, human side as well. The live singing vocals are so identical to Mercury’s that I actually thought that they were all basically remastered audio recordings of Mercury’s performances but apparently they’re also partially from Malek and Marc Martel’s (winner of the Queen Extravaganza Live Tour auditions) vocals.

The film brilliantly recreates almost the entire 21-minute set of Queen’s performance at Live Aid, depicting four out of six songs that were actually performed including Mercury’s epic, iconic ay-oh vocal improvisation with the audience. During this scene, I couldn’t hold my tears from just bursting out when I heard the stunning vocals in the cinema. I’m still not sure if it’s due to the dramatised context and false stakes leading up to this climatic final sequence, or the performance by Malek, or simply just the powerful vocals and the reminder of just how incredibly talented Mercury was. Nonetheless, the whole sequence is fantastic.

If the objective is to simply make a conventional biopic that ends on a strong high note, Bohemian Rhapsody totally succeeds. Although it may not be the deep character-study or true-story biopic that Mercury and Queen deserve, it’s still a very entertaining musical drama with a great performance by the lead.

What I would’ve named the film: “The Theory of Behind Every Successful Man There is a Woman”

Malaysian censorship: Anything that’s gay is completely cut. Even when the word or anything similar is mentioned in dialogues. Sigh, guns, swords and killings on big screen are okay, but homosexuality? Noway hosay no matter what. Thankfully, the censorship doesn’t really ruin the narratives.

Verdict: It’s not quite the Oscar-bait I was expecting but if you’re a fan of Queen’s music, you’d be entertained for sure and maybe even cry like I did at the end.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Bohemian Rhapsody movie poster malaysia keyartGenre: Biography, drama, musical
Running Time: 134 minutes
Director: Bryan Singer (but completed by Dexter Fletcher)
Screenwriter: Anthony McCarten
Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leach Tom Hollander and Mike Myers

Malaysia Release Date: 8 November 2018
Rated: 18
Local Distributor: 20th Century Fox Malaysia
Production: 20th Century Fox, New Regency, GK Films, Queen Films

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