Bohemian Rhapsody review: Rami Malek will rock you

Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Joe Mazzello, Ben Hardy

Rating: 3/5
 

Bohemian Rhapsody begins on a high note, and you see Rami Malek getting ready to punch a hole in the sky at Wembley for the 1985 Live Aid concert, and you will know without a doubt that this is going to be a grand spectacle. The filming of this much-awaited biopic has had its fair share of upheavals; it changed directorial hands last year from Bryan Singer (credited) to Dexter Fletcher (credited only as producer) during the #MeToo movement in Hollywood. And that may be one reason why the narrative feels choppy, and scenes tend to finish as micro-chapters instead of coalescing into one single script.

Bohemian Rhapsody traces Freddie Mercury’s journey from his audacious audition to become the flamboyant front-man of the band that went on to become Queen, to their performance for charity at Wembley. And the secret ingredient in this mixed bag of a musical is an eerily magnificent Rami Malek.

The movie isn’t without flaws. I divided Bohemian Rhapsody into five parts to make sense of it: Freddie’s introduction to his band and to us (part 1), Queen’s road to commercial success (part 2), Freddie’s battle with loneliness and his AIDS revelation (part 3), band infighting and subsequent reconciliation, and the grand magnum opus of a finale (part 5). The odd parts work overall: there is authenticity, there is the hungry ferociousness of Freddie’s persona, there is pomp and splendour, there is rock-star excess, there is the instant connect for those of us familiar with and addicted to music from an era when music was music first and then showmanship and pageantry. To borrow a phrase from one of Freddie’s dialogues in the movie, the “in-between moments”, the even numbers as above, are what falter in this undertaking, devolving into campy pantomime, with cheesy please-the-audience utterances that stop this spectacle just short of greatness.

Did I mention cheesy dialogues? Far cheesier are the seductive come-hither glances that Freddie receives from secondary male characters that PG-reference his burgeoning homosexuality. It’s these misfires that come in the way of what could have been a romp of a movie from start to finish. BoRhap (as the young ones call it these days) is all pomp and spectacle, grandeur and grandiosity, without the emotional heft in equal measure.


Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury

But let’s come back to Malek here, for he deserves much of the praise, if not all of it. In playing Freddie, Malek goes for broke, sinking his prosthetic incisors into the role with an earnestness that is to be seen to be believed. His persona in the movie is arguably as larger-than-life as Freddie Mercury nee Farrokh Bulsara's was. Malek’s embracing of Freddie’s in-your-face physicality isn’t the only reason to watch this; the pain of being a misfit, the twinkle in his soulful eyes as he delivers a deadpan insult or a flip remark, the voice that sings coming from somewhere deep within his soul: it’s all there. His performance is – for the want of a better word – incandescent. The scene where Mercury realises he has AIDS is marvellously understated, (even though conveniently adapted to fit into the narrative two years before it happened in real life). You know those moments at the movies where your mind goes “This. This!”? That.

Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joe Mazzello look uncannily like the members of the quartet they portray: Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John “Deacy” Deacon (more of Gwilym Lee, please). Hardy gets the best line of the movie that he utters after his rendition of high-as-he-can-go "Galileo, Galileo, Figaro" while recording Bohemian Rhapsody (the song). Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Freddie’s one true heterosexual love, is perfectly lovely. There is this one scene where the camera catches her melancholic, heartbroken beauty – slight overbite intact -- in a breathtaking shot.

If a musical biopic (if only partly true as in this case) doesn’t sweep you along on its crescendo, it’s not a musical biopic. This one is, save a few unwieldy notes: mostly due to cinematic liberties and a penchant for melodrama. There I was at the end, during the majestic, exultant beast of the last sequence, tapping my feet, singing along to “Radio Ga Ga” and “We are the champions”, tears rolling down my eyes, in a theatre with a total viewership of four.

Go for Rami Malek’s ferocious, spectacular, standout performance, stay for the grandeur and the final sequence, and exit the movie hall on a high that only Freddie’s vocal range can induce.

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Bohemian Rhapsody review: Rami Malek will rock you

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