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Entertaining “Bohemian Rhapsody” just can’t escape reality

Rami Malek as music icon, Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody". (Photo Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox).

Colin Vandenberg

 Arts & Culture Copy Editor

              In 2016—following five years of false starts and behind-the-scenes troubles—the producers of the then newly titled Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” hired Brian Singer (-Men,” “The Usual Suspects”) to direct, and replaced previous star Sasha Baron Cohen (“Borat”), with Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”) as Mercury; according to The Wrap. Fast forward to 2018, when the film finally hit theaters after also replacing Singer with Dexter Fletcher (“Eddie The Eagle”) six weeks before wrapping production. The woefully unfocused final product is nevertheless wildly entertaining.  

              The script by “The Theory of Everything” and “Darkest Hour” screenwriter Anthony McCarten chronicles the story of Queen—from  the band’s inception to its historic Live Aid concert in 1985—while also detailing Freddie Mercury’s (Rami Malek) relationship with his fiancé Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton, “Sing Street”).

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              The film’s best moments involve Mercury’s struggles between his deep personal connections with Mary and his well-publicized homosexuality. These dramatic, well-acted moments clash tonally with the entertaining but ultimately superfluous scenes involving the other Queen band members; like lead guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee, “Fresh Meat”), and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy, “X-Men Apocalypse”).  

The story doesn’t flow exceptionally well: it moves from one key moment in the band’s career to another, anchored by Malek and Boynton but lacking a sense of urgency/dramatic tension until the embellished events of the third act: culminating in the spectacular recreation of the band’s Live Aid performance. Every recreated performance or recording session is electric and worth the price of admission; unfortunately, the lack of forward momentum makes the 133 hour runtime seem even longer.

The big takeaway from  the movie is Malek’s spellbinding performance as Mercury.  The Wrap reports that Cohen dropped out because he hoped for a “warts and all” portrayal of Mercury, which the surviving band members refused to allow and still offer the rights to Queen’s songs. Malek truly excels with the aspects of Mercury’s inner turmoil that did end up in the final cut. Unfortunately, so much of Freddy’s life in the film revolves around whatever the band was doing that it skirts the edges of making Malek a supporting actor in his own movie.  

Other outlets like Collider, Indiewire and MSN describe the band—listed as  producers —as key creative forces in the film’s development. It’s understandable that influential band members like May and Taylor would want their little-known contributions displayed in a high-profile film like this one. However, Mercury’s story is the most interesting and best acted of the film, making everything else feel comparatively inconsequential. Indiewire reported that Malek had to push to get certain scenes and characters pivotal to Mercury’s story to even be in the movie at all. However,  none of the behind the-scenes drama affects the film’s entertainment level of the film: It’s long but thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. However, the producer-mandated scenes of the band’s contributions distract from Mercury’s compelling narrative, made even worse by the fact that the every band member not named Freddie Mercury has a two-dimensional personality.

Despite its evident and numerous technical flaws, “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” captivating musical numbers and engaging central narrative thoroughly entertains. Much like the epinonimous song:the movie falls apart when you think about it too much, but it’s such a  unique and unforgettable experience that it’d be a pity to miss it.

Rating: 6.4/10