Gwilym Lee and Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody (Photo: Fox)
★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Bryan Singer
STARS Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee
Attempting to capture the artistic process on screen is an arduous and thankless task, as delineating the inner workings of the human mind as it strives to create something unique is generally a concept best left to the written page. The new Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody knows well enough to keep such flashes of inspiration on the surface and on the outside, so that audiences can follow along as, say, characters discuss their ambitious ideas behind “Bohemian Rhapsody” or start hammering out the unmistakable opening chords of “Another One Bites the Dust.” This approach may not be especially deep, but it’s undeniably entertaining.
That, in a nutshell, is a description that ends up suiting the entire picture. Bohemian Rhapsody is nothing if not endlessly engaging, as the picture illustrates how Farrokh Bulsara, a young Brit of Parsi heritage, adopted the name Freddie Mercury and got together with musicians Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon to form one of the all-time great rock’n’roll bands. Rami Malek delivers an incendiary performance as Mercury, yet there’s ample praise to go around for those perfectly cast as his bandmates: Gwilym Lee as May, Ben Hardy as Taylor, and Joe Mazzello (Jurassic Park’s little Timmy, all grown up!) as Deacon. Whether their characters are bonding or bickering, the chemistry between this quartet is one of the picture’s best components, a designation it shares with the ample concert sequences. Particularly pleasing is the recreation of one of the band’s final at-bats: their appearance at 1985’s Live Aid, during which they managed to steal the show from what was merely a who’s-who of the music world’s enduring legends.
For those seeking nothing more than a rollicking good time, Bohemian Rhapsody largely gets the job done. But those looking for some depth – or, heck, even some historical context – will be sorely disappointed, as the film wreaks havoc on chronology, ignores key albums and songs (personal aside: Ted the talking teddy bear and I were not pleased with the MIA status of “Flash!”), and takes factual liberties that will raise ample sets of eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic. Mercury’s homosexuality and subsequent death from AIDS are noted, but peeks at his lifestyle are mainly channeled through sly glances here and there with beefy bodies as well as a one-dimensional villain in Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), Mercury’s part-time lover and part-time manager. (By all accounts, Prenter was a somewhat shady character, but the film version has him hitting all the sneer-worthy beats, only stopping short of twirling a handlebar mustache.)
Bohemian Rhapsody is rated PG-13, as the film’s producers and band members May and Taylor (both heavily involved with the making of the movie) were clearly hoping for a frothy, toe-tapping smash along the lines of the ABBA-approved Mamma Mia! But this story deserved a deeper and more shaded rendition, one worthy of the dynamic figure at its center. It should have been – excuse the clumsy co-opting – “Killer Queen” rather than a compromised biopic that will only intermittently rock you.