“Bohemian Rhapsody” hits most of the right notes

Wesley Stenzel, Staff Writer

Almost all biopics share a unifying problem: it’s incredibly difficult to condense a person’s entire life into a two-hour movie. It’s even more challenging when the subject has lived a life as tumultuous and well-known as Freddie Mercury’s. The rock icon’s story has enough drama to fill an entire season of television. “Bohemian Rhapsody” also was plagued by messy behind-the-scenes drama that led to the firing of director Bryan Singer partway through production. Shake-ups like this often completely ruin movies (see last year’s “Justice League”).

With all these factors in mind, it’s a miracle that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is as good as it is. It certainly isn’t an excellent movie––it’s about as mixed as a film can be––but its strengths ultimately outweigh its various weaknesses.

The weaknesses are plentiful, though. Even if it conveys the history of Queen with 100% accuracy, the film’s first act is thoroughly unconvincing. Mercury’s initiation into the band feels fabricated, the dialogue is unrealistically corny, and the plot rushes through Queen’s early history as though it’s just moving down a checklist of significant events. Similarly, despite solid chemistry between Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton, Mercury’s initial romantic subplot is underdeveloped.

We’re not given a reason to like any of the characters, whose collective insufferability is best displayed in the movie’s worst couple of scenes, in which the members of the band meet with a record executive. The cartoonishly generic executive presents concerns about the band’s recordings, but the musicians won’t hear it. Queen is presented as music’s lone guardians of artistic integrity, as if the surviving members of the band pushed the filmmakers to make them seem as heroic as possible.

The film takes a turn for the better when Queen’s music takes center stage. All of the scenes depicting the band’s recording process in the studio are wonderful, with the title track as a highlight. The concert scenes are also magnificent, especially the grand finale, which is probably the best sequence in the film. Additionally, the latter half of Mercury’s life is handled far more gracefully than the beginning is.

The number-one highlight of the film is Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. While his speaking voice is much lower than the singer’s, Malek perfectly channels Mercury’s distinct flamboyance and quirkiness to deliver one of the best performances in any movie this year. Don’t be surprised if he receives an Oscar nomination in a few months. 

Ultimately, “Bohemian Rhapsody” overcomes its faults to succeed in showcasing Freddie Mercury as both a once-in-a-generation talent and a tragic, lonely human being. It’s eye-opening to realize that so many timeless classics originated from a single man. The film is worth a watch for anyone who likes even one Queen song, which is pretty much everyone on Earth.