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‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ plays like a really good greatest hits compilation

The Art of Nerding Out

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Greatest hits packages are pretty cool. They give you an overview of a band or artist’s highlights without having to pick through entire albums of material you may not love. The Queen-centric film “Bohemian Rhapsody” comes at you a lot like a greatest hits collection, giving you survey of the band’s ascent, with extra focus on the life of singer Freddie Mercury. While it’s a fairly standard rise-to-fame biopic, you can’t help but be swept up in sound and drama if you’re a lover of good music.

“Rhapsody” stars Rami Malek as Freddie, an airport baggage handler who dreams of something more. He gets his chance when the local band Smile loses their singer, and he impresses Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) with his voice. Soon, they add John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) on bass and the rest is history.

This film follows a very familiar path. We see the band members meet and then watch as they attract attention, sign with a record label and attain success. While this story unspools, we watch Freddie go from a working-class nobody to one of the biggest superstars on the planet, battling demons like loneliness and arrogance along the way.

Like a greatest hits compilation, “Rhapsody” dedicates itself to the highest peaks of Queen’s career. We see the band working on some of their most-beloved songs and the film closes with the band’s performance of Live Aid in 1985. It also covers some of the low points, such as when Freddie left the band to go to Germany and record solo. The film works hard to balance itself between the story of the band and the story of Freddie’s life.

That’s where “Rhapsody” starts to feel like a greatest hits album in a not-so-good way. Because the film is as much about Queen as it is about Freddie, it is robbed of potential opportunities to dive deeply into either story. We see the band record some great tunes, but we don’t get to the inspiration or ideas behind most of them. Like a greatest hits compilation, we miss out on a lot of details and side stories that form a band’s identity.

At the same time, we see Freddie’s story play out on a very shallow, surface level, with little of the darkness, conflict or complexity often encompassed by a figure such as he. We get enough to form a general idea of who these characters are, but not enough to really get to know or understand them. And to not get a Queen film that doesn’t highlight producer Roy Thomas Baker’s contributions to the band seems like a slap in the face to me.

Then again, this movie has plenty good in it, too. Here’s a quick list of some of the great things about “Rhapsody.”

  • Lee capturig all of Brian May’s stage moves
  • The film taking time to highlight Mercury’s love for cats.
  • Every last second of the climactic Live Aid show
  • Malek’s ability to give us Freddie Mercury the pompous diva as convincingly as he gives us Freddie Mercury the scared, lonely man who just happens to be a rock star.
  • Lucy Boynton’s lovely, understated performance as Mary, the love of Freddie’s life
  • Mazzello stealing scenes as John Deacon with very few words.
  • Director Bryan Singer’s ability to recreate the world Queen inhabited to knowing exactly what details to capture and include.

Then there’s the music. Just by the virtue of being a Queen biopic, you know “Rhapsody” is going to have a killer soundtrack. And it does. The film is filled almost wall to wall with fantastic Queen songs. There were several times during the movie I had to stifle the urge to sing along at the top of my lungs. You can get away with a lot of mistakes when your movie has a soundtrack that’s this good.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t as great as it could’ve been had it focused more on either Freddie’s life or the story of the band. As it is, however, the movie tells an effective tale about a man losing and finding himself again, while also providing a sampling of some of the band’s biggest hits and most important moments. Give it a chance, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” will rock you.

4 Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13