Bohemian Rhapsody misses Mercury’s sexy essence

Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek does an awfully good job of manufacturing an English accent and a sense of sweet mischief, but for all his talent and ambition, he lacks the physical magnetism that defined Freddie Mercury and Queen’s unique place in the arena rock pantheon.

Bohemian Rhapsody

3/5

Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazello, Aiden Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Running time: 2hrs 14 mins

Rating: PG-13

By Katherine Monk

So much is right in Bohemian Rhapsody, but ultimately, Bryan Singer’s long-awaited take on Queen feels all wrong.

The magic of Freddie Mercury never materializes. There’s no leather-strapped sexuality with a spritely twinkle. No unapologetic swagger or natural glam of a Siegfried and Roy stage show sans tigres. No squeezable queen in Queen.

Instead, we get a very good performance from Rami Malek. The Emmy-winnng American actor known for Mr. Robot does an admirable job donning the prosthetic teeth, cheek-splitting Wranglers and black studded armband that made Mercury an arena rock sex symbol, but there’s something desperately missing in the mix.

The magic of Freddie Mercury never materializes. There’s no leather-strapped sexuality with a spritely twinkle. No unapologetic swagger or natural glam of a Siegfried and Roy stage show sans tigres. No squeezable queen in Queen. Instead, we get a very good performance from Rami Malek.

Mercury was innately, unmistakably, exotic. He didn’t look like the milk-faced Brits with guitars and ginger curls who dominated club stages. He had the eyes of Rudy Valentino and the voice of a raging angel, coupled with a stage presence that hovered between drag queen and sparring partner. He was attractive to both men and women, yet seemed unattainable by all. That’s why he transcended every rock ’n’ roll cliche and carved out a unique place in the pop pantheon: He delivered the unexpected and made us rethink old formulas — whether it was radio formats, the nature of a pop song, or sexual identity.

This film tries to celebrate the groundbreaking nature of Queen as well as Mercury’s many firsts by playing out specific scenes that articulate them for us. For instance, we get a moment in the record label office where a well-disguised Mike Myers plays Ray Foster, a composite executive who “lost Queen” because he didn’t think Bohemian Rhapsody would work on radio. He explains why a six-minute operatic score with a guitar solo wasn’t the status quo, why it had been a colossal waste of money, and why a song like “I’m in Love with My Car” was a better choice for lead single.

This film tries to celebrate the groundbreaking nature of Queen as well as Mercury’s many firsts by playing out specific scenes that articulate them for us.

It’s funny in retrospect, of course. Also funny because Mike Myers used Bohemian Rhapsody as an anthem in Wayne’s World. Funny because we’re all in on the inside joke, and the song has already been quilted into music history and the hall of fame. Mercury has been vindicated by time, but the film never really gives us a great sense of context.

We move around the time line in jerking leaps and missed beats. Even the huge production numbers reproducing the iconic Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium feel unforgivably fragmented, dropping notes long etched into our brains. These are the moments where Malek does his best imitation of Mercury physically, yet it’s also where his lack of sexual charisma really shows.

Mercury was making love to the audience with every bone in his body. Malek never seems like he’s in his body at all. Every part of Mercury that was stiff feels soft in Malek. Mercury’s seductive glare is reduced to a wide-eyed gaze, and his square posture is transformed into a cross between Mick Jagger’s strut and a Disney princess’s prance.

It’s not Malek’s fault that can’t muster the raw power of a rock icon. He’s just an actor. He’s never felt the current of 100,000 adoring fans running through his nervous system, so there’s no way he can own that part of the performance. He can only borrow.

It’s not Malek’s fault that can’t muster the raw power of a rock icon. He’s just an actor. He’s never felt the current of 100,000 adoring fans running through his nervous system, so there’s no way he can own that part of the performance. He can only borrow.

The script, penned in part by Peter Morgan, gives Malek a chance by giving him great cohorts in the band who lend professional context, as well as deeply personal insights. Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy are both brilliant as Brian May and Roger Taylor, and everything always looks better when you get Little Finger, Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones), in the frame.

They’re a big part of what Bohemian Rhapsody gets right. They bring personality, authenticity and a sense of frustration to the front of the stage — everything Freddie Mercury embodied, and too much of what this movie lacks.

@katherinemonk

Main photo: Joe Mazzello (John Deacon), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury), and Gwilym Lee (Brian May) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
THE EX-PRESS, November  2, 2018

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Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

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The magic of Freddie Mercury never materializes. There’s no leather-strapped sexuality with a spritely twinkle. No unapologetic swagger or natural glam of a Siegfried and Roy stage show sans tigres. No squeezable queen in Queen. Instead, we get a very good performance from Rami Malek, which is fine, but lacks the physical essence of Mercury. -- Katherine Monk

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