It can't be easy playing Freddie Mercury. The legendary frontman of British rock 'n' roll band Queen was known for his booming voice, an unmatched stage presence and, well, his overbite. Actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Whishaw were at one time slated to fill those shoes, but it's Rami Malek who does the job and then some in "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Malek ("Mr. Robot") transforms with the help of a movement coach, a dialect tutor and some fake teeth. He gets Mercury's flamboyance and performance style down pat. What further draws you in are the small reveals of deep emotions with a touch of restraint.
At the piano workshopping the band's next hit, Malek wails - in a combination of his voice mixed with vocalist Marc Martel - "I don't wanna die, I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all." He stops mid-breath, his eyes shattered in a sobering look. It's a bit heartbreaking in its sincerity.
Lucy Boynton ("Sing Street") plays Mary, Mercury's longtime lover/girlfriend. She uses every element of her face to express adoration watching him perform, and you'll like this character, who seems the grounding, progressive thread. When Mercury visits her working at a boutique, he asks to try a piece in the women's section. Their exchange of tenderness will get you wanting more.
Music-making scenes are shot and edited like an action movie, with quick cuts of feet stomping in the studio and on arena bleachers. The fim juxtaposes the experimental beginnings of the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" with the explosive reception of fans and snippets of poor reviews. Director Bryan Singer ("X-Men: Apocalypse") was fired weeks before the film wrapped, and he was replaced with an uncredited Dexter Fletcher ("Rocketman").
Like many biopics, Anthony McCarten's screenplay takes liberties - some more pronounced than others - in the timeline, and adds an extra character. But McCarten ("Darkest Hour") pens lovely, metaphorical dialogue for Mercury and excellent comic execution.
Expect meta laughs in a Mike Myers cameo. Hint: allusions to that "Wayne's World" scene.
On the serious side, for a film with the line "We're four misfits ... playing for other misfits," "Bohemian Rhapsody" seems to take a puritanical stance on Mercury's sexuality after he comes out of the closet. You wonder what this tribute would've looked like if Mercury were still alive, or if the story were told by other filmmakers.
Extended scenes should have been trimmed by editor John Ottman (you'll know which ones) but even those feel forgivable. Whatever it is - the characters' connection, the music, the nostalgia, with Malek center stage - this one's worth seeing.
Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee
Director: Bryan Singer
Now showing: Premiere, Duluth 10, Lakes 10