As R&B and rap artists dominate our modern music sensibility, rock bands have seemingly ceased to exist in today’s popular culture. One rock band, however, has stood the test of time and cemented their status in music history unlike any other. You’ve definitely heard their songs, but now it’s time to see the passionate musicians behind the scenes and witness a chunk of history where music wasn’t simply something to listen to — it was something to live.
Beginning with the British rock band’s formation in 1970, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a celebration of Queen through their most iconic performances and controversies leading up to Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985. During this time, Queen produced some of the most iconic pieces of music in popular culture today, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You” and “Killer Queen.” Lead singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) was ahead of his time, and his rise to fame as one of the greatest entertainers of the century is unparalleled to this day. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is also one of the first depictions of the complex man behind the microphone as he develops his maturing sexuality and perception of identity within the industry.
Mercury’s legacy as a performer was easily the most difficult hurdle that this film had to leap over before achieving any ounce of believability as a biopic. His expressive energy and peculiar mannerisms couldn’t have been easy to emulate without extensive preparation. However, shortly into the film it becomes exceedingly obvious that Rami Malek did his homework. The rising star, an Emmy award-winner for his leading role in “Mr. Robot,” completely transforms into Queen’s leading man and conclusively claims “Bohemian Rhapsody” as his own. Hidden behind some distracting yet necessary fake teeth, Malek exudes Mercury’s enthusiasm and confidence through his expressive eyes and charming attitude. His performance demands our attention throughout the film’s entirety as he transitions from Mercury’s stylized stage persona to the rock singer’s calculated artistry behind the scenes.
His most impressive achievement, and the moment almost certain to secure him an Academy Award nomination, is his exhaustive recreation of Mercury’s Live Aid performance at the film’s conclusion. It would be an understatement to say that a complete reenactment of Queen’s most iconic performance would be ambitious to pull off, but Malek selflessly pushes his own interpretations aside to perfectly emulate Mercury’s unique glide across the stage and nuanced soprano. Lip-synching to the real voice of Mercury might have helped the musical believability of the film, but witnessing an actor visually slide into Freddie Mercury’s suede shoes has raised the bar for transformative acting for years to come.
Behind the scenes, the director’s chair has been a controversial topic for the production of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After an established reputation of unprofessional behavior on set, Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects,” “X-Men”) began directing the film in early 2017 as a passion project for his frequent studio, 20th Century Fox. Later in the year, Singer was removed from the project after allegedly not returning to set after a break in filming. The studio quickly chose relative newcomer Dexter Fletcher as Singer’s replacement with only a few weeks left of physical production. Directing credit was later awarded to Singer for the film’s distribution.
Regardless of the unexpected change in creative voice at the helm, it would be hard to notice any transition in quality of filmmaking throughout. The cinematography of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is especially vibrant, colorful and ultimately reflective of Queen’s iconic stage presence. “A Star Is Born,” this fall’s other entry into the movie-musical genre, made a conscious effort to portray the unique perspective of a musician onstage. However, “Rhapsody” portrays the anticipation and joy that comes with buying a ticket and watching eyes wide open as Freddie Mercury slides across the stage. The performances are shot from every perspective imaginable, resulting in this generation’s only chance at possibly experiencing the mastery of Queen in-person.
Since the film’s inception, Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor wished for the film to be as family-friendly as possible, and they insisted any film which negatively depicted Mercury’s sexuality and eventual passing from AIDS would not be tolerated. This decision seems to rob the narrative of the dramatic weight necessary for some of the band’s more nuanced experiences. “Bohemian Rhapsody” may not portray an unfiltered look at the personalities behind Queen, but the film ultimately achieves its goal of honoring the legacy that the band was able to leave behind.
If you are unaware of the influence that Queen has had on popular culture, “Rhapsody” will quickly educate you on how many Queen songs you’ve definitely heard and know by heart. Die-hard fans of Queen will undoubtedly find something new to appreciate, and newcomers will stumble out of the theater as they frantically add Queen’s greatest hits to their daily playlists. Also, don’t stress when the stereotypical performance-montage begins because the best that “Rhapsody” has to offer has yet to come.
Final Grade: A
Alex M. Jankovich is a film columnist for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.