Review: "Bohemian Rhapsody" hits the right notes

Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox)

Bohemian Rhapsody is the Citizen Kane of rock and roll movies. Change my mind. -- KB

I’ve never been in a movie theater on a Sunday morning, but the allure of seeing the Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody could not be denied. At 9 a.m. Sunday, I found myself pondering two options – do laundry or kick back in a Marcus Theater DreamLounger. Thankfully, I chose the latter. It turned out to be one of my best decisions in years.

My love of Queen dates back to high school. Back when life was simple. When the irony of the band’s name was lost on us and we thought Freddie Mercury was a just a flamboyant performer. Come to think of I,t we missed the whole Elton John thing, too. (One would have thought the sequined Dodgers uniform and Donald Duck costumes would have tipped us off. Guess not.) Back then, all that mattered was the music – and that is what this movie is about -- music and the stories behind it.   

The film opens with a kick-ass version of the 20th Century Fox anthem featuring Brian May’s signature guitar sound. All I had to hear was the first two notes and I was all in. If a director/producer took the trouble to nail that intimate little detail in the studio credit, I knew the rest of the film would not disappoint.

I could give you a synopsis of the film, but you can get that anywhere. I could pick apart the performances, but I’m not a critic. Instead, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the things that made “Bohemian Rhapsody” what I believe to be is one of the best rock movies ever.

  • While the movie addressed Freddie’s homosexuality, it wasn’t the primary storyline. It was actually his relationship with Mary Austin, a woman he considered to be his one true love and soulmate, that became a focal point. Most hardcore fans knew the two were very close, but none knew the depth and complexity of their relationship. They do now.
  • The scene between record label owner Ray Foster (who bears a striking resemblance to Will Farrell’s character in the renowned SNL “More Cowbell” skit) and the band. The scene perfectly captured Mercury’s passion for the band, the music, his vision and his unwillingness to compromise on anything he believed would be less than perfection.
  • Much was made about actor Rami Malek’s uncanny resemblance to Mercury, however I found Gwilym Lee’s portrayal of guitarist Brian May to be more astonishing. His mannerisms, facial expressions and movements, right down to the way May played guitar and moved on stage, were spot on. On more than one occasion I found myself believing it was actually Brian May playing himself. Reality was completely suspended
  • We learned why Mercury used only half of the mic stand on stage. I don’t want to spoil the reveal, but it’s very unexpected.
  • We learned Freddie’s signature overbite was caused by the fact he was born with 4 incisors. Who knew?

But what put the movie over the top for me was the film’s conclusion – Queen’s performance at Wembley Stadium for 1985’s Live Aid Concert. Their 20-minute set is widely considered to be one of the greatest rock performances ever, but when set against the backdrop of Mercury’s recent AIDS diagnosis, the performance becomes legendary.

The band opened their Live Aid set with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and when Freddie sings the lines “Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go. Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth,”, the song ceases to be an operatic rock anthem and becomes a living eulogy. You can almost feel the pain Mercury must have felt as he sang before an audience who had no idea what he was living with inside. The band rolls through a few more songs until shot from behind the stage shows Mercury with fist raised standing triumphantly in front of 100,000 adoring fans. Tears flow. Credits roll. Do yourself a favor. Once you’ve seen the movie, go back and watch the actual Live Aid performance on YouTube. It will never be the same.

As far as I’m concerned this is a “must see in the theater” movie. The subject matter is larger than life and seeing it on a screen that is anything less is doing the film a disservice.

 

Drew Olson

Drew Olson

Veteran journalist Drew Olson has worked in nearly every facet of sports media in Milwaukee... Read more

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