It's an almost impossible task, asking any filmmaker to tell the story of Freddie Mercury. He was such a larger than life personality. His flamboyance and raw, fiery talent could trample over even the best filmmakers. So, it comes as no surprise that the latest effort to tackle the late, great Mercury BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is a mixed bag, anchored by one hell of a performance by Rami Malek, channeling the 4-octive king with a surgeon’s precision. He doesn't just play Freddie. You'll believe he IS Freddie. He also added his own vocals into recordings of Mercury's, only adding onto an already red-hot take. This is the kind of performance that doesn't mimic; it envelops you and grabs your hand on the journey.


Part of the identity issue is that there's a lot of cooks in the kitchen. This particular-cinematic vision has been in the works for a few years. Famously, Sacha Baron Cohen signed on to play Mercury, set to start shooting in 2011. That deal fell apart when Cohen's vision of the tale (a more "raw, truthful, R-rated" journey into Mercury's personal life) clashed with the surviving members of Queen's version (they had creative control, or at least did back then and they wanted a more PG mainstream version). According to Cohen, they wanted a Mercury AND Queen movie, even telling about this exchange between himself and Queen on The Howard Stern show:


“A member of the band - I won’t say who – said: ‘You know, this is such a great movie because it’s got such an amazing thing that happens in the middle.’ 'What happens in the middle of the movie?’ He goes: ‘You know, Freddie dies.’ I go: ‘What happens in the second half of the movie?’ He goes: ‘We see how the band carries on from strength to strength.’ “I said: ‘Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you see how the band carries on.’”


Oof. Yeah, let's just be thankful THAT movie was never made. Either way, the project continued, going from director to director until Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) jumped on board. Rami was cast, and the rest is now on screen. Well, partially. Turns out Singer has a few...let's say issues, and didn't quite get along with everyone on set, notably Rami. He was, according to sources working on the film, emotional and reckless. He was late to set. A cast member briefly quit, due to his behavior and when Singer threw a piece of electrical equipment at a wall during a dispute, Malek had had enough. He made a formal complaint, but everyone hoped to trudge through to the end, since two-thirds were done. Singer ended up asking to shut down the set, so he could leave town. It was denied but he left anyway, forcing the studio to fire him, replacing him with Dexter Fletcher to finish the film. And watching it, you can slightly feel the disjointed storytelling, though I don't fault Mr. Fletcher or any of the very talented cast. But it's there.


It's also strange that the film plays very fast and loose with Freddie's life, glossing over major moments in his life, putting his battle with AIDS almost completely out of the picture, as well as his Bi-Sexuality. The film even prefers to label him "gay" and although he chose never to label himself, he had long relationships with both men and women until his death, while his final partner was a man. The film seems to be a "mass audience approved" version of his life, never getting too dark or too emotional. Former Queen manager Jim Beach is listed as a producer, and fellow Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor were creative consultants. In other words, they wanted to tell the "happy family" story, which, after watching this film, is very entertaining. But it's not quite his story. It's also fast and loose with facts, and though many stories are, one that has Beach and May and Taylor involved shouldn't be. Such as the fact that in the film, the Band breaks up, so Freddie can do a solo career (which, by all accounts didn't happen) and then he returns to them after having contacted the HIV virus. This helps inspire him to make up with the band, as he doesn't have much time left, and they decide to do Live Aid. Trouble is, this was 1985 and Mercury wasn't diagnosed until 1987. So, to use that as a storytelling device feels kind of wrong. It also feels a bit one sided with his relationship with the Queer community. In the movie, he doesn't have any, at least any healthy ones, except for his final love Jim Hutton. To not include his Queer live fully is to not tell his story fully, which this sadly does not.


All THAT being said, Rami Malek's performance is extraordinary, and one that is likely to nab him an Oscar nomination (the rest of the supporting cast all turn in strong turns as well). He has all the fire and gusty that Mercury had, and the final, almost shot for shot of the Live Aid concert is exhilarating and truly wonderful filmmaking. The movie is entertaining, and on first viewing I really liked it a lot. It wasn't until after I began thinking of it were there issues that arose. If only there wasn't more of his personal journey, the story of what made him feel like an outsider, what made him feel both Queer and Straight, it would elevate Bohemian Rhapsody above a very well-made movie of the week. Instead, it would become a classic that Freddie would approve of. I think Cohen's version was probably too much. I think this version is too thin and I long for what could have been created in the middle. Perhaps one day we'll see that vision and the ghost of Mercury will sing louder than ever before.


WRITTEN BY Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan DIRECTED BY Bryan Singer UNCREDITED DIRECTION BY Dexter Fletcher STARRING Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilyn Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker. Now playing in cinemas everywhere.



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