Not every film can manage to escape the clutches of its troubled production history. Lucky for Bohemian Rhapsody, it has the power of Queen behind it. By now, everyone knows director Bryan Singer was fired by Fox after on-set squabbles with star Rami Malek over the Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic, for constant tardiness, and deserting the production at one point. But the saving grace of Dexter Fletcher — director of the delightful Eddie the Eagle and whose own Elton John biopic, Rocketman, hits theaters next year — keeps Bohemian Rhapsody from floundering and rises to show Queen still has the power to rock us.
In 1970, Farrokh Bulsara — Freddie Mercury (Malek) to you and me — is a college student working as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport, dealing with at home daddy issues, and stalking the local band Smile. We see the collaboration get off to a rocky start when Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) need a new singer. Freddie shows off his range and joins the band with the addition of John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) cementing them as Queen. A 10-year whirlwind including their contract with EMI, feuding with Ray Foster (Mike Myers), their U.S. tour, and Freddie’s burgeoning sexuality, all leads up to Freddie delivering the news of having AIDS, and their triumphant 1985 Live Aid performance.
There’s been a lot of complaints Bohemian Rhapsody tries to downplay Freddie’s homosexuality, but that makes me wonder if they even saw the movie. It’s addressed extremely early in the movie and is never glossed over. It may be downplayed in a sense to keep the film PG-13, but with Singer, Fletcher, Malek, and screenwriter Anthony McCarten focusing on the band every bit as much as Freddie himself it makes sense. They want to show the solidarity of the group as a family and that’s where the film shines brightest. Even if it also means the film turns into exactly what Walk Hard was spoofing so well.
The entire cast bring to life one of the best ensembles and it probably helps they had both May and Taylor hired on as creative consultants. There was a lot of fun to be had through their years of stardom and it shows on screen. Even if you have issues with the film, the final 20 minutes — which is nothing but Live Aid — you should still walk out happy. They also use the music to add extra subtext to some of Queen’s most popular songs. Malek proves he’s much more than Mr. Robot and gives a stunning performance. He is reason enough to see the film.
There’s no telling how much of a difference the film would be if Singer hadn’t gone AWOL and dismissed, but Fletcher keeps the film moving at a brisk pace. And it was probably not the worst idea to bring in a fellow Brit as he infused a cheeky sense of humor. There’s quite a few moments of inside jokes — the funniest being a Wayne’s World reference — which could have felt out of place. When you’re making film about one of the world’s biggest bands, they fit right in. This may not wind up being a Best Picture contender, but with Malek as Freddie Mercury and the Queen anthems, Bohemian Rhapsody should still rock you.