I usually try my best to avoid any spoilers in my quasi-reviews here – if anything, I only post minor ones and hide them under rot-13 – but when it comes to a biopic of a person as legendary as Freddie Mercury I guess it kinda doesn’t make sense. We all know that he died and what of, we all know of his unique range both in voice and life, and we all know Queen gave the best rock performance ever on the Live Aid event in 1985. Which is what “Bohemian Rhapsody” is framed around.
It tells the 15-years long story from forming of the band in 1970, through working on some of the most important songs (besides the eponymous masterpiece, also “We Will Rock You” and “Another One Bites The Dust”) and albums (“A Night At The Opera”), some ups and downs in the band’s career (firing the EMI manager, about whom they later wrote “Death On Two Legs”, one of the angriest songs ever made) and some major life events of Freddie (“you win, you lose, that’s the chance you have to take with love…”), culminating on an actual 20-minutes long scene of the band performing on the Wembley stadium in 1985. I have to admit, including such a long piece of musical show in a feature film is ballsy, but watching it I asked myself: how different is it from a 40-minutes long epic battle at the end of, let’s say, Marvel’s “The Avengers”?
Actually, now that I think of it, a Queen biopic is basically “Avengers” but where the superpower is music. It also is about some ups and downs of forming a family-like band of different individuals and it’s shown so well in the first two acts of the movie that it totally deserves the epic 20-minutes long climax.
And epic it is: the Live Aid show underlines in a really heartbreaking and tears-inducing way how this movie is not only about Queen, about Freddie Mercury, about music itself, but also about the audience. In the performance scene there’s equally as much of the band as there is of the people listening to them, reacting to music, singing together, weaving and crying. It made me think of the scene in “Casablanca” where refugees from France sang La Marseillaise together, where they’ve all poured their hearts into it, as they were played by some actual refugees from France during the actual, ongoing World War II. Here as well – the audience were not only there playing the people in that Wembley stadium those 33 years ago, but also some actual life-long fans of Queen given the opportunity to re-live one of the greatest musical moments of all time.
The movie is very well made – Rami Malek is excellent in the role of Freddie, but the others are also perfect. I don’t know where Gwylim Lee came from, but he is just spot-on Brian May. And Joe Mazello (the kid from “Jurassic Park”, believe it or not) is fantastic as the stoic John Deacon able to stop an escalating argument just by picking up his bass guitar (a fantastic “shut up and listen” scene about the power of music to add to my collection just next to the “My gift is my song” moment from “Moulin Rouge!” and the recording of “When Your Mind’s Made Up” from “Once”). Also, in a stroke of writing/casting genius, Mike Myers as the dickhead EMI manager in the scene of criticizing “Bohemian Rhapsody” is given the line “I somehow don’t see the kids banging their heads to this in their cars”.
The writing itself is fantastic in this movie. While mostly based on some actual anecdotes and interviews (many of which I’ve heard or read before) the movie of course takes some liberties with them, sometimes even turning the chronology upside down (“We Will Rock You” was actually recorded three years prior to when it’s showed in the film), but at the same time the dialogue is written in such a way that it adds whole layer of meanings to single words so that when they appear later in the movie, they carry with them whole loads of emotions. Just take notice of what do the words of “Miami”, “ay-oh” or the name “Jim” carry throughout the movie. Even “queen” itself has so many meanings…
The editing also amplifies the meaning – after this movie I’ll forever see “Another One Bites The Dust” in a different light after how amazingly it was edited with the shots of Freddie’s party life.
All in all, it’s a very rock and roll film. In the cinema I was almost waiting for the audience to sing along or clap to the rhythm of the song, which actually happened to the “Don’t Stop Me Now” over the ending credits. And I see this movie as Queen saw their “We Will Rock You” song – as an audience-participation movie. I actually see it that in a couple of years I’ll be re-watching it at home with a bunch of friends and we will all be singing and clapping along to it. And that’s the best any rock biopic could achieve.