The Movie Guru: Rami Malek the beating heart of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
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What: “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language.
Screenplay by: Anthony McCarten.
Story by: Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan.
Directed by: Bryan Singer.
Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Mike Myers, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Massello, Aiden Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hallander and more.
Grade: Three and a half stars.
It’s rare I resent a movie for not being longer.
Though “Bohemian Rhapsody” crosses the two-hour mark, that’s still not nearly enough time to fully explore either Freddie Mercury’s complicated life or Rami Malek’s absolutely captivating lead performance. By the end of the movie I had tears in my eyes, but that didn’t stop the beginning from feeling far too rushed. I would have happily sat in that theater for another half hour, at least, if it meant the start of the journey would feel as richly engaging as the end.
The movie introduces us to Mercury when he was working as an airport baggage handler, just before he met the other members of Queen. It follows him all the way to the 1985 Live Aid concert, which is often described as one of the greatest live performances of all time. The bit in between touches on everything from the performances and songwriting with the band to Mercury’s bisexuality and eventual AIDS diagnosis.
The engine that makes the entire thing feel so magical is Malek’s performance as Mercury. His version of the singer is a passionate artist and a lost little boy all in the same moment, only truly at home when he’s on the stage. He’s achingly lonely, and it’s impossible not to hurt for him no matter how rich and successful he becomes. When Malek delivers the line that Queen belongs the people who don’t feel like they fit in anywhere, you believe it down to the depths of your soul.
The movie works best when it directly supports Malek, focusing on Mercury’s emotions as much as possible. There’s no telling how accurate the movie is, but the emotional arc it gives Mercury is utterly absorbing. It utilizes the loneliness Malek embodies so perfectly, the quest to erase it an unspoken but prominent thread throughout the whole film. The heroes and villains are as prominent as in any epic, all of them fighting on the battlefield of one man’s heart.
Though it touches on many of the significant relationships in his life, the movie also seems to claim that music may have been Mercury’s greatest love. One of the best things the movie manages to do is paint the Live Aid concert as a triumph even to those who don’t know much about it. It lets you feel what the concert means to Mercury, at least the version in the movie, and we get to feel it right along with him.
Sadly, the movie starts such a bravura performance by tripping over itself. What we actually see of the band’s early years is a delight, but it’s so full of chops and time jumps it never feels like enough. It’s like skipping your way through an album, only listening to 30 seconds of each song before your attention is jerked on to the next one. There’s no chance to let the experience build as it should, and fantastic moments are passed over without a second thought.
But even if the telling is a little weak in places, “Bohemian Rhapsody” still has a story worth experiencing. It’s just not quite as long as it should be.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.