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Bohemian Rhapsody ***

Any scene involving music is electric and captivating; any scene involving personal drama is ho-hum by the book. The music was enough for me. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

There’s an odd duality in “Bohemian Rhapsody” that is a testament to the enduring power of the rock band Queen’s music. Any time we see Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), Brian May (Gwilym Lee), John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) creating their now iconic tunes, and/or in concert, the film is electrifying. Much like the music itself, these scenes are dynamic, intense and captivating. Even better, moments in which Queen develops the songs “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” “We Will Rock You” and more are inherently fascinating – who wouldn’t want to be in the room when some of the most iconic ballads in rock history were created?

So yes, the reason many will go to “Bohemian Rhapsody” – the music – is satisfyingly well done. This is a 134-minute movie, however, and the rest of the time it focuses on Mercury’s personal life with decidedly mixed results. We learn he is actually Indian/Parsi, and from Zanzibar even though he grew up in London. His conservative father disapproves of his lack of direction, his mother is more understanding, and he falls in love with and marries Mary (Lucy Boynton) just as his career is starting in the early ‘70s.

 



“Wait, wasn’t Mercury gay?” you’re thinking. The answer, according to Anthony McCarten’s (“Darkest Hour”) script, is…not publicly. In the film he tells Mary in the mid-late ‘70s that he’s bisexual, and he only has relationships with men after that. There were rumors, but never any public confirmations of his sexuality. Through hindsight we look at his extravagant outfits and outspoken charisma and project a stereotype of “gay” onto Mercury; it’s important to remember that being publicly gay was less socially acceptable during Mercury’s time.

As Mercury, Malek shines on stage and struggles elsewhere. To his credit, he steps into the role of an icon with bravado, and has mastered Mercury’s mannerisms. Malek did sing himself, but the voice we hear on screen is a combination of Malek, Mercury, and singer Marc Martel, who sounds uncannily like Mercury. In other moments, however, Malek struggles with Mercury’s voice, no doubt in part because a prosthetic mouthpiece made it difficult to speak at all. It’s these smaller scenes that feel rote, a bit too standard to keep the energy up in between musical numbers.

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There was well-documented tension on the set between Malek and director Bryan Singer that led to Singer being fired with 16 days of shooting remaining (but still retaining the director credit). Perhaps this dissension is why the quiet moments are so mundane. Or perhaps they’re a stodgy lull because our preconception of Mercury is him being outlandish and flamboyant, so it just seems weird to see him at a family dinner.  

With Roger Taylor and Brian May serving as producers, this was never going to be a warts-and-all chronicling of the band’s story, and so be it. What we get in “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the version they want the world to know, and it’s a reasonably entertaining version at that.

Did you know?
Comedian Mike Myers, who famously sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” in “Wayne’s World” (1992), gets a wink-wink moment as producer Ray Foster, who tells Queen that people would never bang their heads to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

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