Full disclosure. Before I review "Bohemian Rhapsody," you need to know that I have deep "Queen" roots. Engrained memories. I was a fan. Blame my brother who first introduced me to the band as a teen and bought me their sheet music so I could play their "Night At The Opera" album on the piano. Which I did. With great gusto and verve.
I must admit that at first, I wondered why/how my brother, a manly man (and other guys I knew) could accept the effeminate prancing of Mercury (and Bowie and other rock stars). I assumed they overlooked it because of the top-notch music, or they saw it as someone just doing their thing, or as just some theatrical, over-the-top showmanship.
Now, the film. It's rated PG-13 with great accuracy. Freddie Mercury's spiraling down into a depraved lifestyle is very, very lightly touched upon (one or two same-sex kisses are shown). But the film is not about tragedy. The film is not even about the band or even Freddie himself who cannot but shine and shine. The film is about music. Queen's music. That's the only reason we loved them so much. Had they been four silent men, we would not have heard of them, we would not care. But their extraordinary-in-every-way music lifted our spirits and, yes, Freddie's soaring voice is simply inimitable. There is only one Freddie Mercury.
OR WERE THERE TWO FREDDIES?
It's actually kind of thrilling to see superstar-in-the-making, Farrokh Bulsara (Freddie's real name), saunter into a pub where a talented band on stage is well received, but...their lead singer is disgruntled. We know how this ends! The actors who portray May, Deacon and Taylor really look like them, as does Rami Malek who perfectly nails Mercury's swagger and ("darling") affected speech.
Mercury knew his own public persona so well, knew that he was simply born to perform--but alas, his private self was often sad, lonely and fragmented. How can someone give such enjoyment to crowds of music lovers, and yet not feel that joy down deep in their soul? But maybe that's the point. Maybe Mercury only felt good when he was connecting with audiences.
For me, having grown up when musical "giants roamed the earth"--and I think I can speak for my generation of fans--we never saw Freddie's braggadocio as arrogance, but simply unbounded confidence. Yeah, he thought he was the GOAT. But what if you actually are? We all kind of knew he was "gay," but nobody really cared. He was the eminently lovable Freddie Mercury. He was ours. And, it was always about the music for us. We were so spoiled in an era of eclectic, electric raw rock genius--and we knew it.
The band's meteoric rise is due not only to their incredible talent and originality, but their tightness as a "family," and their refusal to compromise on their creative vision. The personalities of the band members emerge early in the film.
LOVE OF MY LIFE
When Freddie slowly discovers his "bisexuality" or rather attraction to men after he gives "the love of his life," Mary Austin, a diamond ring, he embarks on a life of substance abuse and serious debauchery (barely shown in the film). In real life, Mercury carried out myriad reckless, compulsive sexual encounters with anything in trousers and contracted AIDS (untreatable at the time), dying at the premature age of 45, robbing the world of his multi-octave, mesmerizing vocalizations. Mary Austin remained his truest, closest friend through it all.
Sadly, Queen had several horrible songs ("Tie Your Mother Down") and pulled several salacious stunts (all-female naked bicycle race, a music video in the 80's where the whole band dressed in drag--which caused an unintended backlash). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4Mc-NYPHaQ
I remember editing these out of "my favorite Queen songs."
NOT A WELL-DONE MUSICAL,
BUT A WELL-DONE MUSIC FILM
What's best about this film? The exquisite, exquisite use of Queen's catalog. (Which is also a reminder of just how many monster songs they actually had.) So many films about singers or musicians beat us over the head with their greatest hits, box our ears with one full-length song after another throughout the movie, or try to cram (with abrupt fade-ins and fade-outs) an entire repertoire into a film, or, and this is the absolute worst, they keep some form of the troubadours' music grating below the entire film. Not "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's delicious. Just enough, well placed, well-paced, that keeps us wanting more while not feeling cheated.
My one beef is actually about an omission. We positively needed to see/hear "Love of My Life" play at the "Live Aid" finale and watch the audience sing along. Not so much as a tribute to Mary Austin, but as the crowd's tribute to Freddie and Queen. At film school, we learned that there are certain elements of one's story must be on screen and not presumed or simply spoken of in the film. We must "show" some things and not just "tell" them.
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL
If my 13+ kid liked classic rock n' roll? I would let them see this film. Educate 'em. But also educate 'em about Theology of the Body and why Freddie, as far as we can fathom, was so unhappy and why excess, depravity and art don't have to go together. You may also want to show your young person the YouTube below where Freddie speaks fondly of Satan and tell 'em why that's so dangerous. Satan isn't a game. Satan plays for keeps.
What's also great to know is that the remaining members of Queen collaborated on the film and see it as a fitting homage to their shimmering frontman. RIP, Freddie.