Review: Oscars 2019: In ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Rami Malek Resurrects Freddie
(This story, originally published on 16.11.18, is being republished in light of the film ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ winning the Oscars in 4 categories, including Best Actor.)
‘Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?’– I wondered, as I watched Queen frontman, rock legend, and performer extraordinaire – Freddie Mercury – come to life on the big screen in Bohemian Rhapsody.
From Freddie’s flamboyant gait and dramatic yet blunt manner of speaking, to his childlike innocence and vulnerability – Rami Malek brought it all to life. It was a resurrection of sorts, if you will. But enough about Rami Malek.
Rami Malek Rises Above the Disjointed Narrative
When you stop being in awe of this actor that you have otherwise seen little of, you find a lot of song and dance and incoherent exuberance (which was basically the life fantastic of a once Parsi Farrokh Bulsara-turned-rock legend). And. Not much more.
The jump cuts, after a point, get a bit disorienting. But guess what? Rami Malek rises above that. He sails through with the calibre and confidence of a Freddie, who, even after being debilitated by AIDS, continued to perform for a while until his death, as though nothing had happened.
A Strong Supporting Cast
Bohemian Rhapsody is a larger-than-life celebration of a mercurial being, a highly-individualistic way of living, one that was unshackled by societal norms and one in which Mercury taught that one must throw caution to the winds, as often as the winds blew.
Despite the ‘cut-paste’ narrative, some members of the supporting cast lend the film the kind of empathy and sweetness it deserves. Freddie’s Queen band members offer many a light-hearted moment; one that stands out in particular is their mimicry of Freddie’s attitude and snark, when he comes back to beg forgiveness and reunite with the band after breaking up with them.
Hollander, who is expert at portraying ‘real people’ in his films, is a quiet, distinguished, and self-assured energy throughout the film. As was also the case in real life, Jim Beach is the band’s anchor and voice of reason in the film’s narrative.
Of Race & Religion
The disjointed narrative apart, the other thing that doesn’t help Bohemian Rhapsody is a dialogue by Freddie’s father: he, attempting to explain how Parsis came to inhabit India, a land historically foreign to them – makes a remark to guests at the dinner table about “Muslim persecution” of the community in Persia, between the seventh and 10th centuries.
But the occasional ‘Paki’ (slur for Pakistani) comment on Freddie in the film is quite accurate – representing White Supremacist bigotry against people of colour, that is sadly even prevalent today, albeit perhaps less pronounced.
Navigating the Complex Web of Human Emotion
Even as myriad emotions spilled onto the canvas lending it colours of their own, it was extraordinary to see – and feel – the transformation of Freddie and his girlfriend Mary’s relationship, upon her finding out about his sexual orientation. He still loved her long after their break up and reconciling with his homosexuality. One could even see the flash of jealousy when she introduced her new boyfriend David (played by Max Bennett), and when later, Mary announces her pregnancy, Freddie’s candid yet understandable “How could you?” – pretty much sums up the absurdity of human emotion.
That the gamut of human emotion is full of greys and not just blacks and whites, is evidenced here. “Can anybody find me somebody to love?” sums up Freddie’s – and humankind’s eternal quest for true love.
Long Live Freddie Mercury
One of the highlights of the biopic is – without doubt – the re-enactment of the 1985 Live Aid fundraiser concert for the Ethiopian famine. A high-octane concert taking place simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, UK, and John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, US, the concert seemed to be happening in real-time.
If not entirely accurate, what Bohemian Rhapsody does achieve is, the celebration of Freddie’s ‘never-say-die’ spirit that lives on in Queen’s words, “We are the champions, my friends / And we'll keep on fighting 'til the end.”