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Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody has navigated a rough and bumpy road to the big screen. Following several false starts, the X-Men franchise’s Bryan Singer ended up in the director’s chair—only to be fired midway through production due to allegations of “unprofessionalism” (though it’s far more likely that the MeToo movement caused the studio to reexamine the scandals that have hounded him throughout his Hollywood career). Each new trailer and scrap of casting news brought a fresh wave of “whitewashing” and “straight-washing” accusations. And when the initial reviews finally hit, they lambasted the film as “soulless,” “formulaic,“ and “uninspired.”

I couldn’t agree less with such a narrow assessment: aside from the lackluster title—I still say Don’t Stop Me Now would have been a more appropriate choice—Bohemian Rhapsody delivers exactly what I’ve always wanted out of a Freddie Mercury biopic. This isn’t the dark and gritty behind-the-scenes story of Queen’s rise to fame (nor was it ever going to be, with Brian May and Roger Taylor credited as executive producers); it’s a light and energetic retelling of the legend of the most badass frontman in rock and roll history, weaving all of the (probably embellished) anecdotes that fans have heard a thousand times into a two-hour Greatest Hits compilation that’s every bit as fun, exuberant, and unapologetically flamboyant as the band itself.

Look, I won’t exaggerate its quality: this is far from “Best Movie of the Year” material, and I doubt it’ll be regarded as an instant classic (though I predict it will attract a substantial cult following). It is, however, a delightful musical fantasy, boasting a superb cast (while Rami Malek obviously steals the show as Freddie, Gwylim Lee’s chameleonic turn as Brian May is equally worthy of acclaim), a hilariously meta cameo by Mike Myers, and a truly epic recreation of Queen’s mind-blowing performance at Live Aid. It briefly touches on the challenges that the notoriously private Mercury faced in his day-to-day life (racism, homophobia, his AIDS diagnosis), but is primarily concerned with his onstage persona and his ability to utterly captivate a crowd.

In other words, it feels like the kind of movie Freddie would have made about himself.

[Originally written November 3, 2018.]

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