The 2018 holiday movie season is here and 20th Century Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody intends to kick it all off with a classic rock n’ roll BANG! The controversial film opened alongside Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Tyler Perry and Tiffany Haddish’s new comedy, Nobody’s Fool, and the critically acclaimed TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) selection, Boy Erased, starring Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman. The competition was stiff, but if the iconic Freddie Mercury has taught the world anything, it’s that he’s among the best there ever was and the best there ever will be; Bohemian Rhapsody’s opening box office numbers reflect that.

Rami Malek (TV’s Mr. Robot) hit the ground running with his portrayal of Freddie Mercury and he’s garnered even more momentum since its opening: Bohemian Rhapsody earned $50 million domestically and $72 million internationally, making it the highest grossing LGBTQ+ movie opening and the second-highest grossing musical biopic opening (behind Straight Outta Compton) of all time! It even surpassed Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born, which is in a similar cinematic category.

Bohemian Rhapsody’s opening box office numbers are monumental, just as Queen’s musical legacy is, but at the helm of the legendary rock band’s success is a contrived and often misunderstood frontman named Freddie Mercury (aka Farrokh Bulsara). The thing about Freddie Mercury is that he was always the subject of criticism. From very early on, as an immigrant in England, to later on in life, as the lead singer of the revolutionary rock band Queen, Freddie was judged for nearly every aspect of his being – from his culture and sexuality to his appearance and musical styling. He internalized his struggle with being deemed different in life. Even after death, with this new movie, Freddie’s story is being ridiculed and even boycotted by fans claiming the film “white-washes” Freddie’s cultural roots, “straight-washes” his sexuality and “erases” his battle with AIDS. I’m elated to report that Bohemian Rhapsody does absolutely none of these things.

Instead of shining a spotlight on Freddie Mercury’s personal or sexual history, Bohemian Rhapsody takes us on a wild and representative journey through the ups and downs of famed British rock band Queen, zeroing in on lead singer Freddie Mercury’s life leading up to Queen’s memorable Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium in 1985, six years before his tragic death. Although some of the events were tweaked or moved around for the sake of storytelling, nobody goes to see a Hollywood movie expecting a precise history lesson. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you do. And with the firing of director Bryan Singer (X-Men) just two weeks before wrapping, production continued to run smoothly with Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle) in the director’s chair. Singer remains credited as the sole director, however.

Regardless, the explosive film begins as Freddie Mercury is about to take the stage at the recreated Live Aid concert then cuts to his earlier life attending college. Not as a little boy in Zanzibar or India, but as an integrated twenty-something-year-old named Farrokh Bulsara in 1970’s London, England. At home, he clashes with his conservative parents, wanting artistic liberty and freedom. In society, he’s subject to prejudice surrounding his race, sexuality, style of dress, and physical appearance, wanting only to be recognized for his music. Still, Farrokh was born to perform, so he quickly breaks out of his conventional shell, changes his name to Freddie Mercury, and gets married to his first love, Mary Austin, played by Lucy Boynton (Murder on the Orient Express).

After meeting two of his future bandmates, Brian May, the guitarist, played by Gwilym Lee (The Last Witness), and Roger Taylor, the drummer, played by Ben Hardly (Angel in X-Men: Apocalypse), Queen – “as in your highness” – began their Rock ‘N Roll reign. John Deacon, played by Joseph Mazzello (the little boy from the original Jurassic Park), joined the band as the bass guitarist, and the rest was history in the making: Freddie and his bandmates flourished into sensational musical icons. All this all happened while Freddie struggled with being different, writing songs like “Somebody To Love” and lyrics like “I’m just a poor boy, from a poor family,”  displaying the singer’s vulnerability on a silver platter. Actor Rami Malek does an exceptional job portraying this as he personifies Freddie’s edge, but also his heart, which is a big reason why this movie works, to begin with.

Malek is an Egyptian/American actor, and while he represents Mercury’s Middle-Eastern roots, he does more to represent his boisterous persona and characteristics. And he does so without making a parody of the singer’s “debaucherous” or “scandalous” lifestyle. It helps that Malek both looks and acts the part in this film, and he does so impeccably. He truly transforms, and if I am being completely true to my opinion, it’s one of best performances of 2018. If not, the best. Oscar-worthy, no doubt. From the spot-on accent to the uncanny performative nuances and mannerisms, Malek brings Freddie Mercury back to life in a way audiences never thought we’d see again. Honourable mention goes to Toronto’s very own Mike Myers who is almost unrecognizable as a fictional record executive, Ray Foster.

Within the 2h 15m of Bohemian Rhapsody, we get an inside look of Freddie’s personal life. Originally, this film was going to be produced by Sasha Baron Cohen (TV’s Who Is America?), but Cohen allegedly wanted the biopic to focus on Mercury’s debauchery – a part of Freddie’s life he worked tirelessly to keep private. 20th Century Fox went in a different direction, focusing less on Freddie’s promiscuity and more on his music and the personal relationships that helped shape it. “I don’t want to be the poster boy for AIDS,” Freddie says towards the end of the film, “I decide who I am!” And while Bohemian Rhapsody does not shy away from Freddie’s lifestyle, it dances on the borderline, showing as much as a PG-13 movie is allowed to. It’s important to note that this movie took 8 years to make and all the people closest to Freddie – his bandmates, family, and even his ex-wife Mary – approved the script. The man behind the music identified as bisexual and died while in a long-term relationship with a man named Jim Hutton (played by Aaron McCusker of TV’s Fortitude). This movie does everything to honour that.

There will only ever be one Freddie Mercury, but Malek‘s performance in Bohemian Rhapsody is a true ode to the powerhouse vocalist’s legacy as a performer, lover, and human being. This movie is an experience as much as anything – a foot stomper, a crowd pleaser, and a candid look into the story behind the music. I was stomping my feet and singing along the entire time. Bohemian Rhapsody may not be perfect, it’s damn near close! Freddie Mercury was a champion, and he kept on fighting ‘til the end! All hail the QUEEN!

“Fearless Lives Forever!”

4.5 Popcorn Kernels / 5


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About the Author

Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.