I’ll give the critics one thing: this movie would be quite forgettable without Rami Malek. Coming from “Mr. Robot” (USA, 2015-present) fame, Malek was cast as Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury in late 2016, and the Oscar rumors started instantly. By the time “Bohemian Rhapsody” hit theaters, Malek was the center of attention, and he did not disappoint. He is often playing dual roles: the flamboyantly gay Freddie Mercury and the tragic figure behind Queen’s success. When he is partygoing Mercury, Malek plays up the stereotypically gay persona to a tastefully comic extent. When he is being undermined, backstabbed, and suffering the pangs of love, he portrays the rawest emotion. But of course the most important element in portraying Freddie Mercury is onstage presence, and Malek is flawless. He has complete control of the stage when he performs, matching choreography and mannerisms effortlessly. Malek carries this movie.
Now that Rami Malek has gotten his deserved praise, I’ll talk about other great aspects of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Again, Malek makes all of these elements possible, but it seems like many want to ignore the brilliant plot points and focus on the single lead performer. Much of the movie’s first act focuses on Queen’s plight with music executives and record labels to be taken seriously as a rock band. And from the start, we’re led to believe that Queen is legendary with unmatched talent because the movie is well constructed. Malek’s confident performance takes the lead, and receives support from a witty script that thrives on themes of musical integrity.
Once Queen becomes a household name, we watch Freddie experience fame during multiple “highs” and then dilapidate emotionally in the “low” moments. There’s an important speech between him and a waiter from one of his extravagant house parties; Freddie reveals that the “in-between” sequences from touring and album recording are the roughest for him. He has to confront himself as a person with defining flaws who makes poor decisions. This sentiment is the heart of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And while some of these “in-between” times are slow (they last longer than many of the musical sequences, which is a bummer), they’re crucial to the story and enhance Malek’s performance.
These “in-between” sequences also anticipate us for the movie’s grand finale: the Live Aid concert in 1985. As the minutes tick by, we grow more excited for the show to come, as “Bohemian Rhapsody” delicately makes sure everything is in place for Queen’s most famous performance. The payoff is strong, because swooping cinematography allows us to actively feel Mercury slide around onstage and initiate call-and-response with his fans. The editing however seemed too eager to whisk us away from the stage and show us how much money Queen helped make for Live Aid, and the overall effect is a slightly muted climax for a band that deserves better.
Luckily, the Live Aid concert is only one scene. “Bohemian Rhapsody” has a wonderful aesthetic to complement Queen’s groovy and controversial public image in its many outrageous party sequences and infights. The costume design for Freddie (and his fellow “queens”) is on point, and we understand that through a tracking shot during his first major house party scene. As Queen gains success, similarly extravagant montages show sold-out stadiums and neon lights to display their mass appeal. Plus, the band’s immortal music is implemented seamlessly into the story’s events, even the ones not crucial to the narrative. For example, “Under Pressure” (featuring David Bowie) plays at a perfect downward spiraling moment, yet no scenes show us the song’s construction.
Despite its slow moments and a few wild inaccuracies (no, the band didn’t have a huge falling out), “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a solid film. There is undeniable energy attached to its dynamic lead performance, and it has some subtle messages about musical integrity in the face of adversity.