“Bohemian Rhapsody” rarely flinches as it unspools the story of Queen. There are times when arguments, tears and tender moments feel too real, and then the audience remembers they are watching a movie and that equals success. While the film is called “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the storyline shows what was happening between band members and in the personal life of lead vocalist and pianist, Freddie Mercury. Even more generously, the film depicts the seriousness with which the band members took their relationship to their fans. In short, fans of classic rock, and especially fans of Queen, should not miss “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”: a triumph for Queen
Because of how the song has been intertwined with popular culture — from placement in movies like “Wayne’s World,” and as the subject of “reaction(listening for the first time)” videos on YouTube more recently, it is difficult to believe that once, when the song was new, “Bohemian Rhapsody” did not get the reception it generally receives today. Actually, fans have always seemed to like the song. Record executives and music critics are the ones who had a problem with the song.
The battle over “Bohemian Rhapsody” did not begin in a record executive’s office. The band members battled over what Mercury was trying to do with the song. It wasn’t until the pieces started to come together that the rest of Queen supported the track. The song was featured on the (allegedly) very expensive to produce “A Night at the Opera.” Also featured on that album were other Queen staples such as “I’m In Love With My Car” and “You’re My Best Friend.”
In the movie, EMI executive, Ray Foster, played by Mike Myers (known for his portrayal of Wayne in “Wayne’s World”) fights against “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” release as a single from the album. He wastes no time telling the band he paid for the album, so he picks the single. The band does not go away quietly – – the members have harsh words of their own for Foster, and the scene is both telling and funny.
The movie shows the lengths Mercury went to in order to get “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the air. Still, “You’re My Best Friend” was the official single. As music history would have it, “Bohemian Rhapsody” became the only single to reach No. 1 twice.
Depending on the type of viewer watching the movie, the best parts are either the ones that depict interpersonal relationships, or the ones that show how some of the band’s most iconic songs were made. What happens nicely in this movie is that almost everyone who speaks, and is shown to have a place in Mercury’s life, is made a fairly well-rounded person. From his ex-wife, to his parents, their touching moments were palpable to the audience.
But for those tuning in primarily for the rock music, there is plenty of that, too. Hearing the danceable bass line of “Another Bites the Dust” as it played as an “idea” is spine-tingling. Or, to see the organic and funny way the stomp and clap of “We Are the Champions” came to be is an engaging moment to say the least. When audiences find out that the band had them in mind when crafting “We Are the Champions,” they should feel a little bit special. Another nice touch was seeing how Mercury interacted with the crowd, and how his brand of call and response brought them closer together.
The movie does not shy away from showing the moments when the members of Queen did not like each other. But seeing how they managed to pull together when it counted, or seeing the hurt on the other members’ faces when Mercury announced he was going solo and declared at that the band “wasn’t a family” are emotionally impactful moments that maybe some audiences weren’t expecting.
Another nice touch was watching Mercury’s loved ones respond to him as they watched his performance at Live Aid on television, or from just offstage. Apparently, during Queen’s performance, the fundraising concert raised more than one million dollars.
What the film does leave out is protracted scenes of Mercury’s illness. There are scenes that show his diagnosis and when he tells those close to him about it. Post scripts and additional scenes of the actual band show exactly how close the filmmakers were to matching likenesses of the band to the actors who were to portray them. It is worth the extra few moments in a theater seat.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a triumph in almost all the ways there are people who love Queen.