Starring Rami Malek. Rated PG
As Freddie Mercury, Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek nails the late singer’s trademark overbite, elegantly feral stage delivery, and posh accent.
That last part was in no way derived from his parents, Zoroastrian Parsi Indians who moved from Zanzibar to the U.K. when Farrokh Bulsara was a teenager. He had only listened to Indian music until discovering Led Zeppelin and Liza Minnelli, and he had the zeal of a new convert.
The movie rushes through his first encounters of what would eventually become Queen.
Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy) helped produce the movie, and because John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) didn’t, the latter gets considerably less screen time. (Both Mazzello and Malek had major breakthroughs as marines in HBO’s The Pacific.)
The early scenes of creative collaboration and show-business ascent are fairly thrilling, as usual for biopics. That’s what made these people worth biopicing in the first place.
There’s an especially juicy cameo with a fictional record exec who doesn’t want to release the band’s titular masterpiece, with the fun doubled by having him played by Mike Myers, who repopularized the 1975 song in Wayne’s World. Even better, the film juxtaposes the band’s touring success with graphic excerpts from negative reviews of the song.
The story gets more inaccurate as it slogs through its chronological pace, and at a long 130 minutes, feels riven by competing agendas and a ragged production history.
Sacha Baron Cohen was originally slated to play the lead, and director Stephen Frears was onboard at one point. Eventually, Bryan Singer was chosen, but he left after conflicts with Malek, and was replaced by Dexter Fletcher, the actor turned director currently tackling Elton John in Rocketman. (Malek’s voice is seamlessly augmented by that of Canadian singer Marc Martel.)
The tale’s most fractured area involves Freddie’s mercurial sex life.
It ramps up his relationship with early girlfriend Mary Austin (Sing Street’s Lucy Boynton) at the expense of his eventual gay identity—at the time surprising only to people sure Liberace was straight. Mary was crucial to him (she inherited most of his estate), but this overly sanitized Rhapsody relies on the kind of demonic depiction of gay subculture we used to see in the bad old days, essentially blaming his eventual AIDS diagnosis (relayed to the band two years before it actually happened) on his unhealthy moral choices.
A lot is crammed into the period leading up to Queen’s genuinely triumphant turn at Live Aid, in 1985. That gig, beautifully restaged here, is depicted as a strained reunion, although the band never actually broke up.
It’s still touring, in fact, and this artifact, while intermittently enjoyable, seems more like merch than a real movie.