A fantastic lead performance, some nice visual flourishes, and a powerful story help overcome the cliches of the musical biopic genre.
The story of Freddie Mercury’s life and career is a fascinating one. It follows the usual ups and downs of any band, but the true heart is Mercury’s personal life and his own conflicts and afflictions.
As Mercury, Rami Malek is truly fantastic. He transforms completely. His movements. His voice, his appearance. There are moments when he is indistinguishable from the real Freddie Mercury despite looking nothing like him in real life. He truly becomes the legend during the musical numbers. He is electric. Watching him work a crowd is riveting. The way he makes eye contact, and performs a singing call and response with the crowd is just a thrill to see. It is fun watching Malek own this part. Off stage, he doesn’t crowd out his fellow actors. He feels all of a piece with his ensemble. Often an actor playing a big persona can treat the part into a one man show and crowd everyone else out. Malek doesn’t. He lets everyone share the screen and breath. He has a lovely and tender relationship with Mary played by Lucy Boynton. He has a wonderful relationship with a man named Jim Hutton. The film could have used more of this relationship, but the moments they share are hugely impactful.
This film has a few nice visual flourishes especially during the musical numbers. It is shot with a real point of view on its characters and situations. The smaller moments can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of touring and performing. The concert footage is excellent. The performances are exciting and invoke a feeling of what it was probably like to see Queen in concert. A lot has been said of the films climactic Live Aid concert and with good reason. It is a massive performance that hits the audience with how thrilling it must be to perform in front a crowd like that. What it must feel like to perform to a throng of humanity all shouting your lyrics back at you. It is genuinely heart stopping. Mercury’s life as depicted in the film reflects the time period in which he lived. It was a time of convention being flaunted, and excesses being enjoyed, and finally the world crashing down. Mercury and contracted AIDS. His life is as sad they come when viewed in broad strokes. A genius performer loses himself in excess and passes away too early of a terrible illness, and the film is sad. However it doesn’t bash the audience over the head with tragedy. It is uplifting and hopeful even as the terrible undercurrent pulses just below the surface.
The film has problems. Most are due to the limitations of the musical biopic genre. All movies of this type try to cram too much of the main characters life into its limited runtime. Mercury’s relationships with his family, his heritage, his friends, his lovers, his band, his management, and his record label are all touched on. It gets to be a little crowded and the central relationships can get a little lost. It also embraces some cliches in the studio where arguments are all resolved by a good bass riff or a good song idea. It also follows a very familiar formula. It’s the one everyone knows, struggle, rise to fame, getting lost in drugs and sex, rock bottom, the come back. It’s a formula because it works. This film just doesn’t offer a lot new to that formula.
It’s a good movie. A very good movie even. A letter grade – A-
It’s my cup of tea.