Don’t stop him now: Rami Malek shines in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’



Rami Malek as rock icon Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The “Mr. Robot” star already bears a physical similarity to late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, but with the right clothes and that famous ‘stache, casual viewers may be hard-pressed to tell the difference. (Nick Delaney/Twentieth Century Fox)

By Darren Campuzano, Staff Writer

There’s a scene in the new film “Bohemian Rhapsody” in which Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) rehearses in the mirror and finds his vocal exercises hindered by voice cracks, attributed to his recent diagnosis of AIDS.

He turns back to see two of his many cats silently mocking him.

“You think you can do better?” Mercury said. “Everyone’s a critic.”

In fact, it does seem that everyone is a critic, as this film included criticism from all directions — from the pub-goers who heckle Mercury’s initial on-stage awkwardness as the new frontman of the legendary rock band Queen back when it was still called Smile to Ray Foster (Mike Myers), the EMI label exec who declares no radio station will dare play the band’s records.

Though Fox lists Bryan Singer as the director, he was replaced mid-way through production by Dexter Fletcher. Due to a rule set by the Directors’ Guild of America, Singer still received the credits for directing the film. An article from Variety describes that Singer wanted to put the film on hiatus due to personal issues, but when that was not possible, Fox replaced him with Fletcher.

This “everyone’s a critic” claim has continued off-screen, with The New York Times writing that it’s “engineered to be as unmemorable as possible, with the exception of the prosthetic teeth worn by the lead actor,” while Indiewire claims the “lazy biopic is too much Killer and not enough Queen,” suggesting the film’s directors didn’t capture Mercury’s sexuality.

Here’s the thing — in the film, Malek’s Freddie Mercury belittles critics of all kinds, from a simple house cat to someone in the mosh pit who’s had too many drinks. His spot-on portrayal of the mustachioed frontman comes out on top in this film.

The center of the movie is of course Mercury, whose lavishly campy personality and zealous stage presence could almost make the Earth spin the opposite way. Because of Mercury’s one-of-a-kind personality and lifestyle, it can be difficult to pull off a Freddie Mercury impression that satisfies those who grew up listening to Queen. But Malek delivers in every way.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” provides a layered look into the audacity of Mercury’s performances, while also diving into the outrageous social life that often left Mercury quite lonely.

Where other biopics fail, Singer’s work soars. Other biopics about musicians, such as Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys” (2014), tend to establish one character’s contributions to the group but then struggle to expand on the remaining band members’ lives. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the exception as it tirelessly details the inner dynamics of the band and the extensive processes it took to craft a hit record. We see the complete development of an unlikely bunch led by Mercury, a Zanzibari baggage handler who guides them on the path to becoming enduring megastars.

This film’s cinematography, especially the creative edits of Queen’s time in the studio, shows the consideration the band put into the final cut on each record. The film doesn’t just show you how the song was made — it presents the radical and strangely genius recording process of Queen in a way that suggests, “you won’t believe how it was made.”

Moviegoers will experience this film from an interesting point of view. The camera is not placed as an outsider looking in on the studio progress, but rather takes the role of sound engineer, encouraging Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) to sing “Galileo Figaro” another octave higher and pushing Brian May (Gwilym Lee) to put more strength into the guitar track. The viewer is positioned as a member of the band just as much as any of the actual members — and that’s what makes this film exceptional.

But that does not take away from the film fairly demonstrating the tribulations Mercury grappled with as Queen was in its prime.

Singer takes the time to highlight the weight Mercury placed on his sexuality, his repressed feelings for other men and his tireless search for a lover that could support his wild rock-star ambitions.

Further, the film succeeds in making the viewer feel for Mercury, mainly due to the writing and Malek’s performance.

We feel Mercury’s fuming anger when his backstabbing partner, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) deliberately chooses not to tell him about Live Aid, one of the grandest gigs of Queen’s existence. We feel the shock and frustration of Mercury hearing that his former girlfriend, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), has found a new love. And we feel Mercury’s exasperation as he answers journalists’ questions that only pertain to rumors of his failing health and unhinged sex life instead of the band’s latest album, “Hot Space.”

But at the same time, Singer presents the often unspoken challenges Mercury faced regarding his relationship with his father. Singer does not overlook the lead singer’s strive to please his father, who can’t get on board with his son’s life on tour or his decision to ditch the family name, “Bulsara,” for something more his speed. The inclusion of these powerful interpersonal relationships makes the film all the more intimate.

In one of the film’s earliest scenes, Malek’s character explains to the band’s potential manager that “we’re four misfits who don’t belong together. We’re playing for other misfits and the outcasts right in the back of the room. We’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.”

Since losers turn into something greater in this film, it’s only fitting that one of the last songs viewers hear is the Live Aid version of “We Are The Champions.” Credit goes to the director for choosing not to end “Bohemian Rhapsody” with a bedridden Mercury — but presenting a triumphant Freddie Mercury in front of thousands of outcasts, possibly feeling more powerful than before.