Anyone who came of age in the era of rock groups with names like The Piltdown Men and The Coasters cannot pretend to grasp the cultural impact or musical quality of successive waves of pop music. But this film about the life of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the British rock group Queen doesn’t require any particular insight into (or special appreciation for) the band’s oeuvre to appreciate its emotional impact on the big screen - - especially in light of the sad fate of its front man, now recognized as an international rock icon.
Freddie Mercury, an Indian Parsi, was born in Zanzibar and migrated to England’s midlands with his family in the 1960’s. At the end of college, he began his career as a replacement singer for the other members of what subsequently became Queen. Possessed of a 4-octave vocal range and flamboyant onstage persona, Mercury became the center of a musical quartet that gained an enthusiastic following as they performed original compositions in a series of global tours accentuated by Mercury’s deliberately fey style.
Their frenetic tempo and outpouring of best-selling albums provided the band with a world-wide following, but Mercury’s evolving sexuality and the Iago-like manipulations of his personal assistant led to the group’s breakup just prior to the time Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS. Fearful that his skills as a singer and performer would be adversely affected, he rejoined the band for a memorable performance at 1985’s globally televised “Live Aid” concert supporting famine relief in Africa. Periodic solo work followed until the early 1990’s when Mercury died at age 45.
While critically acclaimed American actor Rami Malek delivers a mesmerizing performance as an over-the-top concert performer, screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s script never gets below the surface of his characters, dipping into bathos at various points while providing little depth in analyzing Mercury’s relationships with family and the collaborative interplay among the members of the band which led to some of the most poignant and insightful lyrics rock music has ever produced. Adding insult to injury, the screenplay treats Mercury’s romantic liaisons, drug use and long dependence on his sycophantic assistant with a coy, Victorian prudery that morphs into condescension.
While the other members of the cast perform competently, Bohemian Rhapsody’s focus on the impact of Mercury’s dynamic performances on stage absolutely electrify. Talk of an Oscar for Malek has begun, but can the dazzling rendition of Queen’s music alone be the grounds for an Oscar as Best Male Performer?
The Verdict- often-humdrum musical biography dominated by the compelling performance of its lead.
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