To be clear, I am not a fan of rock music and in fact mostly “missed” the era of the 70s and 80s entirely while pursuing a nascent career as a lawyer in Washington, DC. Thus, perhaps amazingly, I was really not acquainted with the rock group Queen or Freddie Mercury, its mercurial lead singer.
Nevertheless, my wife insisted that we see Bohemian Rhapsody as soon as possible. It turned out to be opening night of the movie in New York City this weekend and, fortuitously, it was playing at a theater within walking distance of our apartment.
Upon arrival at the theater, I learned why the tickets were so expensive. The movie was in the IMAX Theater. Happily for me, the eye-watering blasts of the previews were toned down to normal loud hearing range for the movie itself. Do overpowering sounds really make people want to see a movie more?
I went in with some concern because I had read a few of the critics’ reviews which were mostly negative, leading to a kind of anticipatory piling on of negative expectations. However, in the event, I must state that I think the critics are dead wrong about this movie. Everyone who enjoys a compelling story of hard work, success, heartache and ultimate resolution, well told and brilliantly acted by everyone, will like this movie. A lot.
To be sure, you’ve likely seen this movie before, or, to be more precise, a movie about a famous star with a remarkably similar story line. The early music savant, a renegade in conflict with a traditional family, strikes out on a path that leads to sudden fame and with it, the demands, gains and losses, that come with it. The great one has what is portrayed as a weakness, a fatal flaw, that threatens to bring him down. In Mercury’s case, I think it was that he believed, as so many famous people seem to, that he could have everything he wanted without risk or consequences. He is difficult but always confident and often overbearing. Personal relationships develop and dissolve. He is alone in the crowd that surrounds him at every moment. Then things really get bad. In the end, the human spirit triumphs and all are lifted up. The movie will, I suggest, rock you.
Here’s the thing. Rami Malek turns in an extraordinary rendition of a complex character. While I was put off by the camera work that seemed always to point at Malek’s reconstructed dental work to mimic Mercury’s overbite (he was born with extra teeth), the essence of the story was one of building tension surrounding the star. Where would fame lead? How could any normal human survive such exposure and remain “normal?” Knowing the end did not diminish the drama, an accomplishment that says, this movie was well done.
I will not give away any secrets about exactly how the story plays out. Suffice that between exceptional acting all around, a compelling story line, great music (yes, I said that), just enough “dirt” to give you the flavor without dwelling on it to the exclusion of the personal side of the singer and those who surrounded him, this movie deserves better than the critics quibbling. Mercury’s conflicted relationship with his wife/friend is laid out but does not overtake the main story line. The casting for the movie was brilliant and many Oscar nominations will undoubtedly result, for Malek certainly, and likely for many of the supporting case.
The critics seem to think that there were major elements of Mercury’s life and personality that were not fully developed but it seems to me that this story is the story that is repeated for every person, like Freddie Mercury, who is challenged and often brought low, at least for a time, by the heavy weight of unimaginable fame. I am, of course, surprised at myself for liking this movie so much, but I am confident that most of the people who see it will find it interesting, fun and, ultimately, satisfying.