The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Bohemian Rhapsody

If ever a rock band had what it takes to fuel a no-holds-barred screen biography, Queen would be it. Between the creation of their distinct theatrical style of music and the fascinating, troubled life of charismatic front-man Freddie Mercury, there's enough in the group's history for a deep dive into the rock-and-roll lifestyle. Bohemian Rhapsody is not that movie. This sanitized PG-13 film was co-produced by Queen's former manager Jim Beach, with the cooperation of members Brian May and Roger Taylor. It's the version of the story they want told and -- surprise, surprise -- it makes them look really good. Only Mercury is shown to have flaws. If you can accept that the film is going to cherry-pick certain moments from the band's career and omit others, you'll get a perfectly-entertaining, if not especially original rock biopic.

Rami Malek plays Mercury, and the film breezes through two significant elements of his pre-fame life -- he worked in the baggage department of Heathrow airport, and he was eager to brush aside his Pakistani roots. From there, he hooks up with May (Gwilym Lee), Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) to form Queen. Their experimental style, which includes wanting to release a 6-minute song with operatic leanings as a single, doesn't always sit well with record company executives. Audiences, on the other hand, eat it up.

From there, we're shown a series of events many fans will be familiar with. Mercury starts to think that he's more important to Queen than the other members, he gets consumed by partying, and a rival company waves a solo deal at him. His personal life gets some time, too, as we see him come to accept his homosexuality and eventually receive a devastating AIDS diagnosis. There's also a subplot involving Mary Austin (Sing Street's Lucy Boynton), a former lover he keeps in his life even after their romance ends. The film concludes with Queen performing at the famous Live Aid benefit concert, an event teased in the first two minutes.

Mostly directed by Bryan Singer, Bohemian Rhapsody tends to use a lot of cliches in telling its story. The gimmick of opening with the Big Concert and then flashing back to tell the tale leading up to it is so old and rickety that the spoof Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story essentially put it out to pasture eleven years ago. The characters tend to talk in platitudes designed to emphasize a point or segue into a song. We're even treated to the bit where a character realizes they have a serious illness after coughing blood into a tissue. There's an old performance trick in which musicians come onstage and yell the name of the city they're in, knowing that the audience will erupt in wild applause. The movie takes a similar approach, hitting beats designed to invoke a reaction from fans.

That desire to please may partially account for why the movie avoids going too far into Queen's drug use and sexual shenanigans. While that's a fault on some levels, Bohemian Rhapsody has enough strengths to compensate for it. For starters, it does an excellent job capturing what made Queen special. Scenes showing how they created some of their most notable songs are compelling. "We Will Rock You," for instance, comes about because May wants to write a song the audience can perform with them. The interplay between band members is similarly well-handled, especially in sections showing Queen's break-up and subsequent reunion. Mercury's life, even if watered-down somewhat, was also sufficiently dramatic that it keeps the movie's momentum moving forward, no matter what.

Rami Malek is outstanding as the singer. He utterly channels Mercury. At the same time, the actor wisely preserves the mysterious quality that made him so alluring, suggesting that this was a deliberate choice designed to create an aura. Malek obviously has the showy part; however, Gwilym Lee is just as good playing Brian May. In his hands, we see how May grounded Mercury's wildest instincts, shaping them into the Queen magic.

Bohemian Rhapsody obviously contains a ton of great music (even if it does leave out any reference to the band's amazing Flash Gordon soundtrack) and the concert sequences are nothing short of dazzling. Is there a better, darker movie to be made about Queen and Freddie Mercury? Doubtlessly so. For what it is -- a fan-friendly tribute to a pioneering musical act -- this particular movie manages to satisfy enough to provide a good time.

( out of four)

Bohemian Rhapsody is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.

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