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"BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY"
(2018) (Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A rock band rises to fame during the 1970s and '80s and must contend with success, including what it does to their flamboyant and larger than life lead singer.
PLOT:
It's early 1970s London and Farrokh "Freddie" Bulsara (RAMI MALEK) is an airport worker who dreams of being something bigger. He gets the chance when the lead singer of a local band quits and Freddie convinces drummer Roger Taylor (BEN HARDY) and lead guitarist Brian May (GWILYM LEE) that he'd make a good replacement. Joined by bass player John Deacon (JOSEPH MAZZELLO) and with the band newly renamed as Queen and Freddie changing his last name to Mercury, they start writing new songs and performing.

With Freddie having a girlfriend in Mary Austin (LUCY BOYNTON) and the band getting both a manager, John Reid (AIDAN GILLEN), and lawyer, Jim Beach (TOM HOLLANDER), they suddenly hit it big, although they have a hard time convincing a recording label exec, Ray Foster (MIKE MYERS), that their newest single, "Bohemian Rhapsody," will be a hit. But it is and their success continues to build, all while Freddie begins exploring his sexuality. That includes coming on to a man, Jim Hutton (AARON McCUSKER), who works as part of the staff at one of the singer's extravagant parties, but refusing the advances of his personal manager, Paul Prenter (ALLEN LEECH).

As the band keeps pumping out hits while purposefully avoiding being pigeonholed to one formula and sound, they must contend with what success does to them, particularly in regard to its effect on their lead singer.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Compared to the old days when you had to be talented, put in the hard work and get a dose or two of good luck, nowadays people can become "stars" on the Internet with little of the above. Instead, they just need some sort of novel hook, an audience who wants to watch things related to that, and sponsors willing to support such endeavors.

That can include, but certainly isn't even remotely limited to, people getting thousands if not millions of followers (and lots of resultant income) trying on clothes, doing product reviews, and playing color commentator while watching others play video games.

I have no idea whether the following is lucrative, but a subset of such stardom involves people -- sometimes kids, sometimes adults -- listening to and watching old classic songs and adding their commentary and two cents regarding their first exposure to such music. I'm not a regular purveyor of such offerings, but was alerted to one in particular and that was a young man taking in Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" for the first time.

He has no idea what he's about to hear and it's a blast watching his reaction to what's arguably one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever recorded. And clearly one the likes of which isn't made anymore, or pretty much anytime in history for that matter, especially when it came out back in 1975.

That song, the conception and selling of it, and the band behind it and plenty of other terrific hits comes to life in "Bohemian Rhapsody" an entertaining if formulaic "we're putting a band together" biopic that benefits, natch, from a great soundtrack, and an equally terrific lead performance by Rami Malek.

While he might not otherwise be an exact doppelganger of the late, great Freddie Mercury -- unlike what many anticipated might happen when Sacha Baron Cohen was attached to this long-gestating project -- the actor probably best known for his work in "Mr. Robot" near completely disappears into the role and the character's larger than life presence, ego, talent, and yes, self-destructive ways.

I've been a big fan of the band ever since discovering them via the long-defunct Columbia House Record Club when I was a young teen in the '70s (back when the introductory offering of something like ten albums for a penny resulted in you picking offerings you might not otherwise have purchased in a store), so it's possible I might have been more inclined to like this film than those with less interest or fandom tendencies.

And it has been receiving some mixed reviews, mostly from critics who are either upset with the fact that it doesn't focus enough on Mercury's much-publicized sexuality (despite the film even directly addressing that at one point with the comment that it should be mostly about the music) and wasn't accordingly rated R (to include steamier and/or supposedly scandalous naughty bits), or that it's somehow changed chronological events to emotionally manipulate viewers.

The latter is in direct relation to a scene where Mercury announces to his reunited band-mates -- right before they appear in the globally telecast Live Aid event -- that he has AIDS. Published reports offer suggestions that this occurred sometime after the concert, but with no actual documentation, I'll believe Brian May and Roger Taylor who were in the band at that time and serve here as the film's creative consultants. Only they would know for sure when such a reveal was made, and while it's possible they allowed for some chronologically tinkering for dramatic purposes, it's anything but a deal breaker in terms of the film being good.

Director Dexter Fletcher -- who took over from Bryan Singer who was fired midstream into the production and picks up working from the screenplay by Anthony McCarten -- keeps things moving along at a good clip, with the songs and the moments showing the genesis and then creation of them being the highlights.

That's especially true for the title song and the band's attempts -- along with their manager (Aidan Gillen) and lawyer (Tom Hollander) -- to convince a record label exec that this highly unusual and overly long (for radio play) song should be the signature offering from their new album. It's a fun and funny scene, with the added meta bonus of having that exec played by Mike Myers (hidden in makeup, sort of like Tom Cruise in "Tropic Thunder") who helped a new generation discover the song in a signature scene from "Wayne's World."

Of course, there are some faults to be found in the 134-some minute film. Most of the rest of the band (played by Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello) are barely personified or focused on (although Lee looks so much like Brian May back in the day that it's kind of scary), which also holds true for Mercury's love interest turned eventual platonic friend (Lucy Boynton) or the sycophant (Allen Leech) who latches onto the singer and leads him astray.

Of course, some of that short-changing is due to the need to cover a number of years in the band's history and keep things moving forward, all of which sometimes gives the flick a slight superficial feel. Add to that the formulaic nature of the story (which pretty much holds true for any film about most any band) and more than its share of reaction cutaways to Freddie's cats, and I can see why some people might not be totally over the moon after watching this unfold.

I obviously recognized all of that, but Malek is so stellar in his portrayal and the music is just so good that I found myself completely entertained from start to finish and sometimes even deeply emotionally moved by what transpires. Simply put, if you're a fan of the band and their impressive collection of songs, you might just enjoy this offering as much as I did. "Bohemian Rhapsody" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed October 23, 2018 / Posted November 2, 2018


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