Does It Live Up To the Legend? A Review of “Bohemian Rhapsody”
By Grace Oeth
In a biopic about a band who didn’t have a great critical reception but were loved by their fans, “Bohemian Rhapsody” had a similar experience. According to multiple reviewing outlets, critics thought that the movie was average, had problems with straight-washing, and didn’t properly address Freddie Mercury’s relationship to his queer identity.
Essentially these viewers and critics are asking: is the movie accurate?
It is, in the most basic of ways. Rami Malek takes on the role of Freddie Mercury and utterly becomes him. The accent, the hair, the teeth, and even the outfits are so good that any fan of the infamous band would recognize them. With all the pictures that remain of Queen’s lead singer, it’s hard not to assume that Malek is giving us a true Freddie Mercury. The same can be said for the rest of the cast members. When comparing the movie’s band members to their real life Queen counterparts, there is no doubt of the similarities. But does Queen still receive the accurate representation it deserves?
The only people who could really answer that question are the ones who were a part of Queen itself, and those who were integral to their story. Since those people are limited, this movie is not intended for them. It’s not even intended, necessarily, for the hard-core fans who know every aspect of the band’s story. This movie is meant to give new generations an inside look at one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever exist—and it only had two hours to do so.
Even with that in mind, the movie wasn’t rushed. It had a natural progression from how Freddie, Roger, Brian, and John all met, to their greatest and most memorable performance at Live Aid. It built relationships between people in a palpable way, and the audience was able to care about who came into the picture, who left, and who stayed. The movie also reinvented what fans know as canon, including the audience in the creative process, and introducing the iconic songs as new.
What makes this movie really shine is Malek’s performance. Since Freddie Mercury’s personal life was very private, not even his biggest fans could understand the emotional rollercoasters the man had to go through. With this film, Malek shows the rawness of Mercury’s character, and channels all the turmoil that plagued his life. He also showed the great emotion that Mercury attached to his music, which is what makes Mercury a relatable yet genius figure. As a person who grew up never truly knowing who Mercury was, it was refreshing to experience what this man was really capable of. In one part of the movie, when Mercury is confiding in his band mates, he says,
“I decide who I am. I’m going to be what I was born to be: a performer, who gives the people what they want. A touch of the heavens, Freddie fucking Mercury.” He always tried to stay true to himself, and Malek properly emulates that.
So, does the movie live up to the legend? A better question is, how can the newer generations properly distinguish what is true and what is legendary? To put it simply: we can’t. We now live in an era where our parents worshipped the deity that is Freddie Mercury, and that feeling can only be passed down. This movie presents a tribute and also gives the audience a chance to re-experience Queen again and again. It shows us that music — especially Queen’s music — cannot survive without human connection. Despite the passing of generations, Queen’s legend will live on forever, as the band intended.